Rim Fire burns 187,466 acres, 23% contained

TUOLUMNE CITY, Calif.

Smoke is creeping across the sky in Tuolumne County and only residents are allowed past checkpoints into the danger zone.

Natural wonders attracted Bernard Murphy to the area and this is life as usual, with one large exception.

"We got stuff in the back of the car, the back of the trunk," he said. "We just have to get our dogs and lock up and we're good."

The only king keeping the Rim Fire away from his home is the hard work of firefighters. Murphy is under an evacuation advisory and he's watched the flames approach his property only to get knocked down by fire crews.

The entire fire covers an area twice the size of the city of Fresno and on the opposite end from Murphy's home, Fresno firefighters are battling a fire the likes of which most have never seen.

"This fire is probably the largest that any of these firefighters have been on and the complexities are enormous," said Fresno Fire Dept. battalion chief Casey Clark.

The Fresno crews are working 24 hours on and 24 off to protect the Hetch Hetchy reservoir. The flames are almost surrounding their location, but so far they're keeping the infrastructure safe.

The same can't be said for homes. The fire has already destroyed about 30, but residents say it's the price they pay for living here.

"It's a beautiful area and you know, if I was living in Oklahoma I'd have to put up with a different kind of disaster," Murphy said. "So, this is our disaster."

Yosemite has a long history with wildfires, and the Rim Fire is sizing up to be one of the worst fires ever in the national park.

Law enforcement from multiple Valley agencies might have to go back to patrol areas around the Rim Fire for a second day on Wednesday.

Deputies and officers from the Fresno, Madera, and Merced areas were called Tuesday afternoon to head to the Rim Fire for help. The Merced County Sheriff said his deputies would handle a number of duties.

"They could patrol a sector to avoid any looting, they could be transporting persons in and out of a distressed area. So whatever the incident commander needs from law enforcement, we're there to provide that service," said Mark Pazin, Merced County Sheriff.

The deputies came back home early Wednesday morning, but authorities say they could be asked to go right back if the incident commander for the Rim Fire needs more help.

Flames, smoke, and devastation are as much a part of Yosemite's history as magnificent rock formations, waterfalls, and giant trees.

The worst wildfire ever in the national park sparked to life in the summer of 1996. The Ackerson Complex fire scorched 60-thousand acres in Yosemite and the sTanislaus National Forest in roughly the same area as the rim fire is burning now. The raging wildfire began as four separate fires and burned for an entire week before merging into one massive, destructive blaze. 3-thousand firefighters battled the flames for 18 days before finally getting it contained.

The second largest fire in Yosemite's history roared to life in the summer of 1990. The A-Rock fire forced evacuations and the park service closed Yosemite to tourists -- shutting down the three major state roads into the park. The flames from the A-Rock fire ripped through the forest land and nearly wiped out the private community of Foresta, reducing cabins, vehicles, and belongings to a fine powdery ash. The A-Rock fire combined with the nearby steamboat fire and destroyed nearly 24-thousand acres in the park.

"Probably the most deviating thing I've ever seen. Hundreds of years of trees burning up like that. Doesn't make me really happy," said one firefighter.

Like the Rim Fire, lightning sparked both the Ackerson and A-Rock fires in the month of August as thunderstorms rolled over Yosemite.

Despite their destruction, the Ackerson and A-Rock fires can't match the enormity of the entire burn area of the Rim Fire, so far. And the national forest service predicts the growth potential for the Rim Fire is extreme.

Yosemite's fire records date back to the 1930's. For the past 40 years, the park has used prescribed burns to manage the growth of tens of thousand of acres within Yosemite's borders.

Action News Anchor Warren Armstrong contributed to this report.

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