Crews make progress against Rim fire at Yosemite with help from drone, weather


Firefighters working on the colossal Rim fire in and around Yosemite National Park in California were optimistic after the fire’s pace slowed on Wednesday. The blaze has burned more than 300 square miles and destroyed at least 11 houses, and it was 30 percent contained as of Thursday morning. Firefighters have relied heavily on air support, including a DC-10 tanker and a Predator surveillance drone, to slow the spread of the flames in difficult, mountainous terrain. They expect to have the fire fully contained by Sept. 20:

The fire burned about 300 acres an hour on average during the 24-hour span ending Wednesday evening, down from 1,000 acres an hour the day before. It spread 10 times faster, burning more than 3,000 acres an hour, during its peak last week. . . .

“A lot of that has to do with the fact that the weather is cooperating a lot more with us,” said Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant, noting temperatures have cooled and humidity has risen.

Berlant said the constant air drops and bulldozer-dug dirt lines around the perimeter of the fire have paid off.

“There’s a lot of work that’s been done over the past week and a half now to really put this fire to bed,” Berlant said. “We are hoping that we’ve turned the corner.”

San Jose Mercury News

It is not unusual for drones to be used in fighting wildfires, as they can stay aloft through the night and access more dangerous areas. Firefighters are using the drone over Yosemite to monitor where the flames are burning:

The plane, the size of a small Cessna, will remain over the burn zone for up to 22 hours at a time, allowing fire commanders to monitor fire activity, determine the fire’s direction of movement, the extent of containment and confirm new fires ignited by lightning or flying embers.

The drone is being flown by the 163rd Wing of the California National Guard at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside and is operating from Victorville Airport, both in Southern California. It generally flew over unpopulated areas on its 300-mile flight to the Rim Fire. Outside the fire area, it will be escorted by a manned aircraft.