Evacuation orders for communities off California 108 on the north and California 120 to the south remain in effect, authorities said.
Though the massive fire, now having burned 199,237 acres, was listed as 32% contained Friday morning, officials said their work is far from finished. The Rim fire became the fifth-largest in California history Thursday as a result of natural spread and back-fire operations by firefighters.
For the third day in a row, crews are hoping that winds will cooperate and allow them to spark a large controlled burn ahead of the fire’s path to the east, south of the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir -- an important source of water for San Francisco.
While firefighters over the last week have set defensive anchors along the fire’s western flank to protect residents, the blaze has been allowed to burn almost unimpeded eastward, deeper into the park. Only smaller controlled burns have been possible to this point.
“The fire is not having erratic growth like it was before,” said Alison Hesterly, a Rim fire information officer. “And the forward spread of the fire is slowing, which is a good thing.”
In back-fire operations, crews use drip torches to light low-intensity fires beyond the fire’s perimeter. By eating up fuels in the fire’s path, they create a barrier to its expansion.
Authorities also spent Thursday building and improving containment lines, deploying bulldozers and hand crews. One strike team was on the lookout for flare-ups near Hetch Hetchy, while others worked to protect vulnerable structures.
More than 4,900 firefighters were battling the blaze as the cost to fight it ballooned to $47 million. The cause remains under investigation.
Officials expect the fire to be fully contained within two or three weeks, but said it will keep smoldering for some time and won’t be truly out until rain or snow arrives months later.