The worst of the Rim Fire may be over, but the blaze that has raged in and around Yosemite National Park for the past three weeks is likely to burn for another two weeks before officials can declare it to be fully contained.
The wildfire, reported to have been started by a hunter’s illegal campfire, has grown to cover more than a quarter million acres.
Still, steady progress has been made, and containment is now at 80 percent, although the potential for the fire to continue growing remains “high,” according to the US Forest Service. Winds, temperature, and humidity levels affecting fire behavior remain variable, and some of the terrain where firefighters are working is extremely difficult to navigate.
“Short runs of fire may occur where flames reach the bottom of drainages and move into more heavily vegetated areas,” reports the Forest Service. “Approximately 2,490 structures remain threatened in areas near the fire perimeter to the north, south, and southeast portions of the fire.”
Although that portion of California State Road 120 leading into Yosemite Valley has been opened, other parts of the road remain closed, and motorists are asked to use caution and avoid stopping when driving through the fire area. Several campgrounds remain closed as well.
In addition to vacationers and local residents, the Rim Fire could affect a part of the traditional western economy: cattle ranching.
The Stanislaus National Forest, where the fire raged, is grazing land for some 4,000 cows.
“With large numbers believed to be dead, and the near future of grazing in the forest up in the air, the cattle industry is another victim of the massive blaze on the west edge of Yosemite,” reports the San Francisco Chronicle.
"They go out every day, gathering the cows they can find, the ones that have made it into the green areas," said Susan Forbes of the US Forest Service. "They're finding pockets of livestock and concentrating on removing them as fast as they can."
While the Rim Fire has drawn most of the interest this wildfire season – including for a period when it threatened San Francisco’s water supply from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite National Park – the overall wildfire picture is less than it was at this point last year.
So far this year, 35,440 reported fires have burned a total of 3.9 million acres. Last year at this time in the fire season, 45,278 fires had burned 7.9 million acres. The figures for 2011 were 55,619 fires and 7.2 million acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.
But large fires continue to burn in several states this season: six in Idaho, five each in California and Montana, and one each in Alaska, Louisiana, Oregon, Texas, and Washington. So far this year, 300 large fires have been contained.
Officials now estimate that the Rim Fire will be fully contained by Friday, Sept. 20.