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Yosemite fire too big 'for our minds to manage,' resident says

GROVELAND, Calif. — The multi-pronged Rim fire continued to shift and move on Sunday, bringing relief to some areas and deep concern to others.

For Emily and Elisabeth Beagle, it brought both.

On Thursday, the 27-year old twins were evacuated from their Casa Loma Bakery in Groveland and their home above the industrial kitchen where they run Yosemite Baking Co.

PHOTOS: Rim fire at Yosemite

On Saturday, they got word it was safe to return home, but the fire was heading west and threatening their organic lettuce farm, Growsemite, near the neighboring community of Greeley Hill.

"Usually we stress about everything, but this fire at our back door is too big for our minds to manage, so here we are, out drinking a beer on a Saturday night, which is very unusual," Emily said.

They came from Maine three years ago and invested all their savings in what they envisioned would be an idyllic, rural lifestyle. They faced what they said seemed like endless challenges: It was too warm for lettuce to grow; they didn't know how to fix farm equipment. But they thought they were starting to get the hang of things.

"Then a huge wildfire," Elisabeth said.

The Iron Door Saloon on Highway 120 normally would have been packed. It's a favorite stop of tour buses from San Francisco on the way to Yosemite. But the western highway entrance to the national park remained closed because of the fire, so it was a handful of locals dancing their worries away.

On Sunday, as Groveland breathed a collective sigh of relief — the town was plastered with signs to firefighters reading "Thank You! We love You" – Tuolumne City about 45 minutes away became the latest Sierra town in the line of fire. Black Oak Casino was evacuated. The tourists left, but then the hotel's 148 rooms immediately filled with emergency workers. In nearby Sonora, the smoke was so thick that the local Wal-Mart closed.

Firefighters were digging trenches with bulldozers as well as hand-digging lines to try to hold the fire at least a mile away from Tuolumne City the way they did in Groveland.

The Rim fire is now 207 square miles. Much of it is in sweeping, daunting terrain and the fire is helping to create gusting winds reaching 50-miles an hour on some ridges.

It is one of California's largest fires in recent history.

"It's the worst one I've seen in 23 years. It's even worse than in 1987 when parts of Yosemite looked like a moonscape," said Groveland Hotel owner Peggy Mosley.

Her inn was filled with national news crews and she winced as they headed toward Yosemite, instead of Tuolumne City. The tourist mecca of Yosemite Valley is open and the skies are clear, but the fire has crossed into the remote country on the northwestern side of the park, leading to headlines linking the national park and fire.

"Yosemite is an international destination and people don't understand the distance," she said. "This morning I got a call from someone in Switzerland saying, 'So Yosemite burned down?'"


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