A persistent air attack was underway Monday afternoon as firefighters made progress in their battle to stop the westward spread of the massive Rim fire near Yosemite National Park, officials said.
Helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, including huge DC-10 bombers filled with fire retardant, were making repeated assaults near Tuolumne, in an area that fire officials have referred to as the California 108 corridor on the western flank of the blaze.
Fire officials said crews on the western edge were also conducting backfiring operations, a dangerous tactic in which firefighters burn vegetation inside a fire line to help contain a rapidly spreading blaze.
The blaze, which has consumed nearly 150,000 acres since breaking out Aug. 17, was still spreading to the north and northeast into old growth timber in the Stanislaus National Forest, the U.S. Forest Service said. The area burned was equal in size to the city of Chicago.
The flames have also raged into Yosemite, burning nearly 22,000 acres of parkland as of Monday afternoon, officials said.
The fire was 15% contained, which officials described as good progress given the dry fuels, warm weather and erratic winds that have confronted crews in their efforts to control the blaze.
“Everything is looking as good as it possibly can for this stage of the fire,” said Johnny Miller, a spokesman with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “We’re making good progress.”
At least 23 structures have been destroyed by the blaze.
Temperatures in the Yosemite Valley region were expected to remain in the mid-90s this week. Officials at Yosemite said campgrounds have been packed and that the popular Yosemite Valley and much of the park are free from smoke.
Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency Friday, and California officials submitted a request for federal funds last week as the fire exploded in size. That request was approved and the Federal Emergency Management Agency will reimburse up to 75% of eligible costs, according to FEMA.
On Monday, Brown toured the devastation and met with fire commanders and first responders. The governor said President Obama had called him to express support and offer assistance.
“This is something that we have to live with -- it may even get worse in years to come -- but California will be ready for it,” Brown said at a news conference.