Flames Tamed; Firefighters Coming Home from Rim Fire - KMPH FOX 26 | Central San Joaquin Valley News Source

Flames Tamed; Firefighters Coming Home from Rim Fire

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FRESNO, Calif. (KMPH) -

It's been almost three weeks, and the Rim Fire burning near Yosemite is still going, just not spreading.

It's 80% contained and 371 square miles of forest have been charred so far.

It is the fourth largest wildfire in California history.

The flames have finally been tamed, and some firefighters who've been on the front lines since it sparked 18 days ago are finally getting some rest.

A Valley strike team returned from the rim fire over the weekend.

Firefighters say they were up there for 14 days straight, working 16 hour days.

They say they're also mentally exhausted because they had to be on their toes the whole time.

The Rim Fire, was stubborn, unpredictable, and for a long time just kept growing and growing.

"It was coming pretty fast and furious," said Patrick Basch, an air attack supervisor.

He flies a lead plane; he's one of the first firefighters to fly into the smoke every day.

Basch coordinates part of the aerial attack, directing choppers, planes, and air tankers.

He says the first time he flew over the rim fire - he was struck by how out-of-control the flames were.

"I thought what bomb just went off because it was just blowing up. It was burning on all four sides actively. Typically it'll have a head and direction...and this one was burning actively on all four fronts," said Basch.

Firefighters on the ground say the fire was erratic and had a mind of its own.

"Yes it did, probably a couple of minds," said Carlos Cabanas, a fire engine captain.

He says there were times when his team had to back off for their own safety.

"It's just going to do its thing, and just get out of its way, everybody come home safe," said Cabanas.

Several hot shot crews are still on the front lines, face to face with flames.

Although it's been a tough fight and the flames continue to burn, firefighters have been able to save thousands of homes from the rim fire.

So far firefighters are poised to come home safe.

"It's an adrenaline rush, there's nothing like it in the world.  It's hot, it's smoky, you can't breathe, and that's were the hot shots...we're just one big family, you keep looking at the brother or sister next to you to keep motivating you to move forward," said Thomas Rooney, a member of the Kings River Hot Shot Crew.

There are still more than 4,000 firefighters fighting the rim fire; at one point there were more than 5,000.

Also, most people who've been evacuated have been told it's safe to go back home.

Full containment is expected within two weeks.

What sparked the rim fire is still a mystery, but U.S. Forest officials revealed Wednesday that it was not caused by a marijuana-growing operation, as was originally thought.

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