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Rim Fire: County asks state for help

Towering plumes of smoke and clouds rise above Tuolumne County Wednesday. Derek Rosen/The Union Democrat
 The Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday convened an emergency meeting to ask Gov. Jerry Brown’s office to declare a state of emergency for the Rim Fire.

The board declared a local state of emergency on Tuesday, which County Administrator Craig Pedro said the local proclamation was a step toward today’s request.

If Brown’s office declares a state of emergency, it can “open up the door” to more firefighting resources on the front lines, Pedro said. But it can also lead to financial assistance from the state for response activities like evacuation centers and for loss of residential, commercial and other property.

“This has definitely reached a level that is beyond our resources,” he said. “We need help.”

The Rim Fire has continued to grow this week since it was spotted on Saturday in a remote section of the Clavey River canyon, expanding 10,000 acres between Monday and Tuesday when it jumped the Tuolumne River and crossed Highway 120.  The fire grew about 6,000 acres between Tuesday and Wednesday, and has now burned an estimated 16,228 acres of brush and woodland in the steep, rugged terrain as of Wednesday afternoon.

Local emergency officials announced an evacuation advisory for Pine Mountain Lake on Wednesday, which means voluntary evacuation for the Groveland-area community. Myriad other businesses, residents and camps near Groveland and Buck Meadows have also been evacuated since Monday, and a section of Highway 120 east of Ferretti road remains closed.

Jerry Snyder, a spokesman with the Stanislaus National Forest, said on Wednesday afternoon that an update on the fire’s size was not yet available. However, he did say that the fire continued to grow throughout the day in “virtually all sections” of the perimeter especially within the numerous and steep canyon “fingers” in the area that are filled with dry brush and fuel.
By Wednesday morning firefighters had installed a fire line near the Pine Mountain Lake residences and thought the fire was “secure,” but the line was breached in the afternoon prompting the latest evacuations, Snyder said.

The main priority remains protecting property and public safety along the more populated and accessible parts of the perimeter.

“The rest of the perimeter of the fire is really burning hot and unchecked in many areas,” Snyder said.
Pedro said the state’s response can be quick when a county seeks an emergency declaration. The county has already been in contact with state emergency officials about the fire, he said.

Local law enforcement will also see some help from the state. According to the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office, the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services has responded to a request for law enforcement aid by sending Sacramento-area officers to assist with evacuation and other needs of local police.

A call to the state office was not returned by Wednesday afternoon, sheriff’s spokesman Scott Johnson said they don’t yet know how many units or officers are en route or when they will arrive. Pedro confirmed the law enforcement support was coming, saying they will help local authorities with evacuations as well as patrolling and protecting the abandoned neighborhoods from looting or other potential criminal activities.

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