GROVELAND, Calif. – At Ike Bunney’s dude ranch near the Sierra community of Tuolumne, all creatures have been evacuated as firefighters brace for an intense battle to keep a wildfire raging north of Yosemite National Park out of mountain communities.
“We’ve already evacuated the horses,” said Bunney, who was keeping an eye on his Slide Mountain Guest Ranch on Sunday. “I think they’re worried about the fire sparking over these hills.”
The fire is leapfrogging across the vast, picturesque Sierra forests, moving from one treetop to the next.
The fire has moved northeast away from Groveland, where smoke gave away to blue skies Sunday.
Hundreds of firefighters were deployed Sunday to protect Tuolumne and other communities in the path of the Rim fire. Eight fire trucks and four bulldozers were deployed near Bunney’s ranch on the west side of Mount Baldy, where two years of drought have created tinder-dry conditions.
“Winds are increasing, so it’s going to be very challenging,” said U.S. Forest Service spokesman Bjorn Frederickson.
“It’s slowing down a bit, but it’s still growing,” Frederickson said.
The fire continues burning in the remote wilderness area of Yosemite, but park spokesman Tom Medena said it’s edging closer to the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, the source of San Francisco’s famously pure drinking water.
Park employees are continuing their efforts to protect two groves of giant sequoias unique to the region by cutting brush and setting sprinklers, Medena said.
The high winds and movement of the fire from bone-dry brush on the ground to 100-foot oak and pine treetops have created dire conditions.
“A crown fire is much more difficult to fight,” said Daniel Berlant of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “Our firefighters are on the ground having to spray up.”
This fire has continued to pose every challenge that there can be on a fire: inaccessible terrain, strong winds, dry conditions. It’s a very difficult firefight,” Berlant said.