Firefighters are planning to take advantage of cooler weather predicted for Friday to make progress in battling the blaze, which had been contained by about 32 percent as of Thursday, according to reports, while questions remain as to how it might affect tourist traffic to the region over the upcoming Labor Day weekend.
Dubbed the Rim Fire, the fifth-largest wildfire in California’s history that began near Yosemite National Park on Aug. 17, had, on Thursday, spread to almost 200,000 acres largely due to backfire operations -- which involves setting fires inside containment lines to burn vegetation in the path of advancing flames -- to stop the blaze from spreading farther southeast into the park.
“The fire is not having erratic growth like it was before,” Alison Hesterly, a Rim fire information officer, told Los Angeles Times. “And the forward spread of the fire is slowing, which is a good thing.”
The fire, however, is not expected to keep away too many people from one of the country's most popular national parks over the Labor Day weekend despite nearby communities having witnessed a major fall in tourist traffic because of the fire.
“We’ve had minimal cancellations, and when we do we fill them immediately,” park spokesman Scott Gediman, told CBS Sacramento, on Thursday. “The campsites are full and there are plenty of people, but because of the publicity we’re slower.”
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Yosemite attracts almost 60 percent of its annual tourist traffic between the months of June and September, according to data available on the National Park Service website. In 2012, the park received 4 million visitors.
According to reports, the fire has so far cost $47 million to combat and nearly 5,000 firefighters are currently battling the blaze, which is expected to be fully contained by Sept. 10. But, the blaze is expected to keep smoldering and it won’t be put out until rain or snow arrives months later, LA Times said in a report.
Progress made on Thursday in battling the blaze prompted authorities to lift evacuation orders for California’s Tuolumne City, Soulsbyville and Willow Springs communities. The evacuation advisory is still in effect for areas near the south side of Highway 108 up to Pinecrest, reports said.
"I can't say we've turned a corner just yet, but we are making very good progress," Dick Fleishman of the U.S. Forest Service told Reuters.
The Yosemite Conservancy, a non-profit organization that serves the national park, has already set up a special fund to restore trails and facilities once the Rim Fire is put out.
"We anticipate that significant work will be needed to restore areas affected in the park once the heroic efforts of firefighters are completed," Mike Tollefson, president of the Yosemite Conservancy, said in a news release cited by the media.