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Nation/World

August 31, 2013

Firefighters make progress at Sierra

FRESNO, Calif. — Nearly a third of the huge forest fire burning in and around Yosemite National Park was contained Friday and some small communities in the mountainous area were no longer under evacuation advisories, but smoke descending down into San Joaquin Valley cities was becoming a problem.

Nearly 5,000 firefighters were battling the blaze, but in a sign of progress some were expected to be released to go home, said Daniel Berlant, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

“We continue to gain the upper hand, but there’s still a lot of work to be done,” he said.

The 2-week-old blaze burning in the Sierra Nevada northeast of Fresno has scorched 315 square miles of brush, oaks and pine, making it the largest U.S. wildfire to date this year and the fifth-largest wildfire in modern California records. Containment was estimated at 32 percent.

Winds had been blowing dense smoke plumes northeast into the Lake Tahoe area and Nevada but a shift Friday brought them west down to the San Joaquin Valley floor.

Regional air pollution control authorities issued a health caution for San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, Fresno and Tulare counties. Residents who see or smell smoke were urged to stay inside, especially people with heart of lung problems, older adults and children.

Evacuation advisories were lifted Thursday in Tuolumne City, Soulsbyville and Willow Springs but remained in place for other communities, and evacuations were still mandatory along the fire’s southeastern edge.

About 75 square miles of the fire are inside Yosemite but at some distance from the national park’s major attractions, including glacially carved Yosemite Valley’s granite monoliths and towering waterfalls.

Park officials expect about 3,000 cars a day to pass through gates during the long Labor Day holiday weekend instead of the nearly 5,000 that might typically show.

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