GROVELAND, Calif. - With winds gusting to 50 mph on Sierra mountain ridges and flames jumping from treetop to treetop, hundreds of firefighters have been deployed to protect mountain communities in the path of a fire raging north of Yosemite National Park.
Overnight the fire grew 7 square miles as firefighters gained little ground in slowing the now 207-square-mile blaze, said Daniel Berlant of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
"Today, unfortunately, we are expecting strong winds out of the south," he said. "It's going to allow the fire to advance to the northeast."
Fire officials are using bulldozers to clear contingency lines on the Rim Fire's north side to protect the towns of Tuolumne City, Ponderosa Hills and Twain Hart. The lines are being cut a mile ahead of the fire in locations where fire officials hope they will help protect the communities should the fire jump containment lines.
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," Berlant told The Associated Press Sunday. "Our firefighters are on the ground having to spray up."
Officials estimate containment at just 7 percent.
The blaze sweeping across steep, rugged river canyons quickly has become one of the biggest in California history, thanks in part to extremely dry conditions caused by a lack of snow and rainfall this year. Investigators are trying to determine how it started Aug. 17, days before lightning storms swept through the region and sparked other, smaller blazes.