Rim Fire now California's seventh largest wildfire

Firefighter A.J. Tevis watches the flames of the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park, Calif., on Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013. With winds gusting to 50 mph on Sierra mountain ridges and flames jumping from treetop to treetop, hundreds of firefighters have been deployed to protect this and other communities in the path of the Rim Fire raging north of Yosemite National Park. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
August 27, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
The 11-day-old Rim Fire swelled overnight to become to seventh largest wildfire in California history.

Tuesday, flames reached the shores of the Hetch Hetchy reservoir threatening the water supply for a large part of the San Francisco Bay Area. For now, officials say the reservoir is in no immediate danger.

Fighting the fire will prompt the closures of several major roads in Yosemite National Park beginning Wednesday through the Labor Day holiday. Nearly 185,000 acres have been scorched including parts of Tuolumne County. The Black Oak Casino in Tuolumne is one of the staging areas for the air attack on the Rim Fire.

The tourist town of Groveland has also been hit hard economically. Summer tourism is the bread and butter for Greg Jones who runs Dori's Tea Cottage.

"We use these two months to save money for the winter. And now we're not going to have that money to make it through the winter months. So, and you know, the whole town struggles like that. We're a little town and we try and support each other and when people quit going through town, it hurts all of us," he said.

Highway 120 runs through the heart of town and is still open, but not all the way into Yosemite.

People who booked rooms at the Hotel Charlotte are now having second thoughts. A week before Labor Day, there is an unheard of vacancy sign out front.

"We are getting many cancellations from guests. They're, you know, they're afraid. They hear about the awful fire and [Highway 120] being closed. So sometimes it's even a question to them whether they can even get here," said hotel employee Linda Struhm.

While Groveland is near the containment area, it's still a full battle to keep flames from spreading west to Tuolumne City and Twain Harte. Helicopters continue to drop retardant on the flames and buffer zones a few miles from the nearby homes.

"We're still in critical conditions. We're making sure that we do everything we can to keep the fire from advancing any closer to town," said Rim Fire spokesperson John Bearer.

The fire is now dropping ash on the Hetch Hetchy reservoir; the main water source for San Francisco. But officials say the water quality is unaffected because the water is drawn from 260 feet below the surface. Currently, extra water is being stored as a precaution.

More than 100 structures have been destroyed so far. One property owner drove from San Diego to see his property.

"Finally, they said we could come through on Monday so I drove all night Sunday, got up here. But, it's, you're pretty apprehensive knowing that some properties burned on your road. There's only 12 cabins there, so the odds are not too good. But it's quite a relief getting there and seeing my place is still there," said property owner Dan Courtney.

Tuolumne County schools will be closed for the rest of the week with the county is enveloped in a thick blanket of smoke and haze.

Increased humidity is helping to suppress the flames, and firefighters now estimate they have it 20 percent contained.

The cause of the fire is still not known.


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