GROVELAND, Calif. (AP) — Fire crews are clearing brush and setting sprinklers to protect two groves of giant sequoias as a massive week-old wildfire rages along the remote northwest edge of Yosemite National Park.
The iconic trees can resist fire, but dry conditions and heavy brush are forcing park officials to take extra precautions in the Tuolumne and Merced groves. About three dozen of the giant trees are affected.
"All of the plants and trees in Yosemite are important, but the giant sequoias are incredibly important both for what they are and as symbols of the National Park System," park spokesman Scott Gediman said Saturday.
The trees grow naturally only on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada and are among the largest and oldest living things on earth.
The Tuolumne and Merced groves are in the north end of the park near Crane Flat. While the Rim Fire is still some distance away, park employees and trail crews are not taking any chances.
The fire was well into the northwest corner of the park, the U.S. Forest Service said.
More than 5,500 homes are threatened. Four were destroyed, though officials say the number could go up once they can safely assess burned areas.
Jessica Sanderson said one of her relatives gained access to the family's property in Groveland, just 26 miles from the park's entrance, on Saturday and was able to confirm their vacation cabin had burned to the ground.
The family saw firefighters on a TV news report a day earlier defending the cabin.
"It's just mind-blowing the way the fire swept through and destroyed it so quickly," said Sanderson, who's been monitoring the fire from her home near Tampa Bay, Fla. "The only thing left standing is our barbeque pit."
The Rim Fire has burned 202 square miles — an area about the size of Chicago. It started in a remote canyon of the Stanislaus National Forest Aug. 17 and is just 7 percent contained. Its cause was under investigation.
The fire has grown so large and is burning dry timber and brush with such ferocity that it has created its own weather pattern, making it difficult to predict in which direction it will move.
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