Kibbie Fire being doused to clear air

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By GENEVIEVE BOOKWALTER

Smoke that choked the foothills all weekend should disperse this week, as firefighters in Yosemite National Park work to extinguish an 8,000-acre fire that has burned since mid-summer.

More than 500 firefighters are battling the Kibbie Complex Fire burning in ponderosa pine trees, mixed conifer trees and brush about 18 miles east of Mi-Wuk Village, said Fire Management Officer Tom Nichols. As of this morning, the fire was 72 percent contained. Nichols said he expected full containment by Thursday.

That should help clear the haze, which Tuolumne County Air Pollution Control Officer Gary Caseri said has prompted 40 phone calls to his office in the past week.

"People might want to be cautious, especially in the evening and early morning when the smoke is thick," Caseri said. He recommended older people and those with asthma stay inside with windows closed.

While the smoke level has been measured as "moderate," Caseri said that classification comes from a 24-hour average reading. Thick haze in the morning and evening are probably worse than "moderate," but are balanced out by afternoon winds that clear skies for a few hours after lunch, he said.

Lightning ignited the Kibbie Complex Fire in mid-summer, and it has been allowed to burn ever since, clearing duff and brush from the forest floor. Only in recent weeks, with shifting wind patterns and temperatures, has the smoke been a problem.

Nichols said fire officials decided to put out the burn to reduce smoke and protect cabins in nearby Aspen Valley. Friday, the fire was about 11/2 miles from the 23 houses.

Seven helicopters and about the same number of air tankers were to drop water and retardant on the flames today, Nichols said. About eight hot shot crews also are tending the burn, along with a handful of hand crews for cutting fuel breaks and clearing brush and engine crews.

No injuries have been reported, Nichols said. As of this morning, the fire had cost about $1 million to manage and suppress.

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