Yosemite blaze third-biggest in California history

AFP-JIJI

The wildfire in Yosemite National Park became the third biggest in California’s history Friday, but officials re-opened a key road into the tourist landmark as firefighters got a grip on the blaze.

The so-called Rim Fire, accidentally started by a hunter last month, has grown to almost 1,000 sq. km, much of it within the park, which is visited by millions of tourists every year. It is now the third-largest California wildfire since records began in 1932, with an area five times that of Washington, D.C.

Smoke drifted into the tourist heart of the park, Yosemite Valley, obscuring views of the world-famous Half Dome and El Capitan rock formations over the Labor Day holiday weekend a week ago.

But changing wind patterns and increased humidity helped firefighters contain it within the far north of the park.

Firefighters now have it 80 percent contained, and on Friday re-opened Highway 120, the main road into the west of the park for visitors driving across from San Francisco on the California coast. At one stage, as more than 5,000 firefighters battled the fire, two of the four main roads into Yosemite were closed.