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Ceres crews join Rim Fire attack
Personnel helping in massive Sierra Nevada fire
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A number of Ceres police and fire personnel have been dispatched up Highway 120 in Tuolumne County since Aug. 20 to help battle the massive Rim fire that can be seen here from the Yosemite junction. The fire has created its own cloud visible from the Valley. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

Ceres fire and police personnel are helping battle the Rim fire that spread into Yosemite National Park on Friday, causing authorities to urge more evacuations in nearby communities where thousands have already been forced out by flames marching through the timbered mountains.

As of Monday evening, the fire that started Aug. 17 had scorched 160,980 acres between Groveland all the way up to areas near Sonora and was only 20 percent contained. Ceres Fire Chief Bryan Nicholes reported to the Ceres City Council on Monday that 23 structures had been consumed by the raging fire with another 4,500 still threatened. A total of 3,752 personnel were in action on the Rim fire line which includes 460 fire engines, 71 fire crews, 60 bulldozers and 43 water tenders. Only two injuries had had reported.

"They're doing a good job up there under the conditions," said Nicholes.

Crews from the Ceres Fire Department have been helping battle the blaze since Tuesday, Aug. 20 and will continue to send up firefighters until needed, said Nicholes. Dispatched to Division R were Ceres Fire Captains Eric Holly and Jeff Serpa, firefighter David Steenburgh and engineer Jason Cripe.

Holly will remain a strike team leader with firefighter Joshua Cummings, engineer Randy Sullivan and firefighter Greg Selvera going up today.

Ceres police personnel have been rotating through to assist law enforcement with evacuations, securing areas and prevent the looting of approximately 300 homes in the Ponderosa Hills area, said Deputy Chief Mike Borges.

Officers have also patrolled the Tuolumne City area.

"We'll have more of our law enforcement committed to that fire as well," said Borges.

The department has sent Sgt. James Robbins, detective Brinton Moore. Sgt. Pat Sullivan and officer Pat Dayton to assist.

According to Ceres Director of Public Safety Art deWerk some of the firefighters are working 24-hour shifts "and some of them have bumped into 36 hours and do not have enough resources." He noted that as many as 54 fires are ablaze in western states which have tapped local, state and federal firefighting resources.

"They're very tired but giving it all they have," said deWerk.

The fire has resulted in the closure of the Highway 120 entrance into Yosemite, which remains open to visitors through other routes. Within the park, the blaze was burning on about 17 square miles in a remote area around Lake Eleanor, about 4 miles northwest of Hetch Hetchy reservoir, Yosemite spokeswoman Kari Cobb said.

Smoke blowing across the Sierra into Nevada forced officials in several counties to cancel outdoor school activities and issue health advisories, especially for people with respiratory problems.

On Friday, officials issued voluntary evacuation advisories for Tuolumne City and Ponderosa Hills - which are about five miles from the fire line, noted Forest Service spokesman Jerry Snyder.

A mandatory evacuation order remained in effect for part of Pine Mountain Lake, a summer gated community near Groveland, a community of 600 about five miles from the fire and 25 miles from the entrance of Yosemite.