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Yosemite fire blazes into US holiday weekend

Park visitors sit outside of the Ahwahnee Hotel on August 28, 2013 in Yosemite National Park, California
Park visitors sit outside of the Ahwahnee Hotel on August 28, 2013 in Yosemite National Park, California. The wildfire which has spread into Yosemite National Park now covers over 200,000 acres, but tourists visiting on a US holiday weekend need have no c

The wildfire which has spread into Yosemite National Park now covers over 200,000 acres, but tourists visiting on a US holiday weekend need have no concerns, officials said Friday.

The so-called Rim Fire has expanded to 315 square miles, a quarter of it within the landmark Californian park, and will continue to grow fanned by hotter temperatures and drier conditions in the coming days.

But it remains some 15 miles from Yosemite Valley, the tourist heart of the park where millions of visitors flock every year to see majestic scenery like the Half Dome and El Capitan rock formations.

"The area where it's burning right now is mostly wilderness... There's nothing in that location that would potentially be a safety issue," said Yosemite spokeswoman Kari Cobb.

A burned car sits on the side of the road after being hit by the Rim Fire on August 25, 2013 near Groveland, California
A burned car sits on the side of the road after being consumed by the Rim Fire on August 25, 2013 near Groveland, California.

The fire, which started west of the park on August 17, is now 32 percent contained, according to the latest daily update by the Inciweb multi-agency website.

No injuries or deaths have been reported due to the blaze, but it has destroyed at least 111 structures -- 31 homes as well as buildings on campgrounds that were hastily evacuated last week when the fire erupted.

The inferno has however reached the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, the main source of water for 2.6 million people living in the San Francisco Bay Area, some 200 miles (320 kilometers) to the west.

Ash has fallen on the reservoir, but water quality has not been affected so far, authorities say.

"Continued warmer and drier weather is forecasted for the next several days, which will elevate control concerns and slow burnout progress," said the latest Inciweb update.

A surge of visitors is typically expected over this weekend's Labor Day holiday at Yosemite, which draws millions of tourists every year, most in July and August. Labor Day traditionally marks the end of the summer season.

"It would have to travel a very far distance to get here. And the other thing is that Yosemite Valley is surrounded by granite cliffs, and granite is a very good fire stopper," said Cobb.

"So at this point there is absolutely no talk of the fire reaching Yosemite Valley," she added.

The California National Guard on Wednesday began using a Predator military drone, of the kind which have been used in Afghanistan over the last decade, to monitor the blaze from the air, a Pentagon spokesman told AFP.

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