Firefighting officials said Monday that they are gaining the upper hand on the massive Rim fire burning in and around Yosemite National Park. Containment jumped overnight from 45 percent to 60 percent, the weather was cooperating and some firefighters were beginning to be taken off the line, authorities said.
By midday Monday, the fire —-the fourth-largest blaze in California history — had burned 357 square miles. That was up from 348 on Sunday, but there were signs that the tide was turning in firefighters' favor.
Crews have had a productive stretch in containing the blaze, said Todd Schroeder, a spokesman for the firefighting effort. Authorities conducted a fresh assessment of containment lines on Monday and determined significant progress.
In addition, helpful weather was on tap.
Rain was possible late Monday and Tuesday, and the wind was blowing out of the south and southwest, meaning that along some of the more volatile fronts of the fire, any new flare-ups would be "blown back into the fire, as opposed to blowing out and across containment lines," Schroeder said.
"It's a good weather prediction," Schroeder said. "It will help us."
The number of firefighters assigned to fight the Rim fire has started to dwindle, more than two weeks after the blaze began. A firefighting force that had grown to more than 5,000 was at 4,616 Monday.
A little more than a quarter of the fire's footprint has been inside the boundary of Yosemite National Park, and smoke and road closures have kept many visitors away.
Schroeder said the weather conditions would also be favorable to the park, and although smoke would still continue to accumulate in valleys, it would probably lift in the afternoons.
Schroeder said the investigation into the cause of the blaze continues. Authorities have not said whether they suspect the fire was sparked by natural causes or by human activity.
The Rim fire has destroyed more than 100 structures, including 11 residences. Authorities have established a goal of full containment by Sept. 20.
The largest wildfire in California history remains the 427-square-mile Cedar fire, which destroyed more than 2,800 structures in San Diego County in 2003.