Rim Fire Near Yosemite Now 32 Percent Contained, 199,237 Acres Burned

After Sunday's devastating destruction of a popular Bay Area camp just outside of Yosemite, firefighters have been making steady progress on battling the Rim Fire just outside the national park.

Increasingly confident fire officials said they expect to fully surround the blaze in three weeks, although it will burn for much longer than that.

"We continue to get line around this fire," Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said. "It's not nearly as active as it was last week."

On Thursday, Cal Fire reported they had contained 32 percent of the fire, which had grown to 199,237 acres - or 311 square miles - becoming the state's 6th largest fire in state history. Four people have been injured, and the price tag is now at $47 million spent on fighting the wildfire.

MORE: Rim Fire Incident Command Page

Fire commanders from Cal Fire and the U.S. Forest service have been using a Predator drone to give them early views of any new flare-ups across in the remote and rugged landscape.

The California National Guard drone deployed Wednesday was being remotely piloted hundreds of miles away, allowing ground commanders to keep an eye out for new fires they otherwise wouldn't have immediately seen.

"The drone is providing data directly back to the incident commander, allowing him to make quick decisions about which resources to deploy and where," Berlant said.

Previously, officials relied on helicopters that needed to refuel every two hours.

While unmanned aircraft have mapped past fires, use of the Predator will be the longest sustained mission by a drone in California to broadcast information to firefighters in real time.

The plane, the size of a small Cessna, will remain over the burn zone for up to 22 hours at a time, allowing fire commanders to monitor fire activity, determine the fire's direction of movement, the extent of containment and confirm new fires ignited by lightning or flying embers.

The drone is being flown by the 163rd Wing of the California National Guard at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside and is operating from Victorville Airport, both in Southern California. It generally flew over unpopulated areas on its 300-mile flight to the Rim Fire. Outside the fire area, it will be escorted by a manned aircraft.

Officials were careful to point out the images are being used only to aid in the effort to contain the fire.

Click here to see a time lapse video of the Rim Fire by Yosemite National Park:

In 2009 a NASA Predator equipped with an infrared imaging sensor helped the U.S. Forest Service assess damage from a fire in Angeles National Forest. In 2008, a drone capable of detecting hot spots helped firefighters assess movement of a series of wildfires stretching from Southern California's Lake Arrowhead to San Diego.

The Rim Fire had been the 7th largest fire in history, until it edged out the Klamath Theater Complex fire in Sikiyou County, which burned 192,038 acres in June 2008 when lightning struck, according to a Cal Fire chart.

The Rim Fire fire has been raging in the heart of the Stanislaus National Forest since Aug. 17, and investigators still haven't announced what sparked it.

A total of 5,500 structures still remained threatened, and so far, 111 buildings were damaged - 11 of them were homes, despite earlier reports that 31 homes had burned. Nearly 5,000 firefighters have now been called in to battle the blaze.

The biggest loss was the complete destruction of Berkeley Tuolumne Camp, a family camp run by the city of Berkeley since 1922. Friends of the camp set up a Facebook page to collect old photos of good times at the camp. As of Thursday, the Berkeley Tuolumne Family Camp Photo Memorial had 1,732 friends.

The other camps in the area, including San Jose Family Camp, San Francisco's Camp Mather and Camp Tawonga were evacuated safely shortly after the fire broke out.

 Associated Press writers Brian Skoloff, Tracie Cone and Scott Sonner contributed to this report.

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