Yosemite fire grows slowly, but so does containment

The Rim Fire has grown into the fourth-largest in California history, but containment is now up to 40 percent. As officials look for what caused the two-week blaze scorching part of Yosemite, one suspect is a marijuana-growing operation.

Mike McMillan/U.S. Forest Service/AP
A member of the Monterey Hotshots carries a gas can near a burn operation on the southern flank of the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park in California. The wildfire burning in and around Yosemite National Park has become the fourth-largest conflagration in California history.

The massive blaze known as the Rim Fire has become California’s four-largest fire ever, at times filling Yosemite National Park with smoke as Labor Day weekend visitors try to enjoy one of America’s natural crown jewels.

Firefighters are making steady progress – containment increased from 35 percent Saturday to 40 percent Sunday – but the conflagration burning for two weeks now has grown to 348 square miles, including about six percent of Yosemite’s backcountry.

"Despite firefighters' efforts, the remote Rim Fire burning near and in Yosemite National Park continues to be very active," the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said in a statement Saturday morning.

Firefighters have carried out controlled burns around two groves of Giant Sequoia trees – the largest living things on earth, some of which are believed to be 2,000 years old – to clear away debris that could otherwise fuel a fire to such an intensity that it dangerously licks at the trees' crowns.

"We are working very hard to protect that,” said fire incident spokeswoman Leslie Auriemmo. “All the lines are in place so it doesn't go into those groves.”

About 4,800 people are working to put out the fire, including firefighters from agencies across California and some 700 specially trained California prison inmates.

The next few days could be critical as the fire continues to move through inaccessible steep terrain where helicopters and air tankers do their best to slow the spread, officials report.

Meanwhile, the Incident Information System said in a statement, "Continued warmer and drier weather is forecasted for the next several days, which will elevate control concerns and slow burnout progress.”

The cause of the blaze has yet to be determined, but an illegal marijuana-growing operation may have been involved.

One fire official in Tuolumne County offered a tantalizing clue when he recently told a community meeting that the fire was likely caused by marijuana growers, the San Jose Mercury News reported Friday.

"We don't know the exact cause," said Todd McNeal, fire chief in Twain Harte, a town that has been in the path of the flames. But he told a community meeting that it was "highly suspect that there might have been some sort of illicit grove, a marijuana-grow-type thing."

"We know it's human caused. There was no lightning in the area," he said.

NOAA and NASA satellites show that smoke from California’s Rim Fire has drifted thousands of miles, merging with smoke from agricultural burning in the Mississippi Valley. 

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.