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Evacuations to end, wildfire dies down near giant sequoia grove in Yosemite National Park

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YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. - A day of big firefighting gains against a wildfire in Yosemite National Park means the last evacuations will soon end and threats to a rare grove of giant sequoias will shrink further.

Residents from about 50 homes in the Foresta community that have been evacuated for several days will be allowed to return home at 3 p.m. Friday, the National Park Service said in a statement.

The announcement came as the fire was 58 per cent contained Thursday night, up from 34 per cent at the beginning of the day.

There were still worries that the fire could make a move west toward the Merced Grove of giants Sequoias, which was found to be about 2 miles away from the blaze after a revision of estimates that previously put it at 10 miles, park spokeswoman Kari Cobb said.

But the weakening of the fire made it increasingly unlikely it would reach the woodland giants that grow only on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada and can live longer than 3,000 years.

The grove is one of three stands of giant sequoias in Yosemite. It has 20 to 30 mature giant sequoias, Cobb said.

The park's biggest stand of giant sequoias, the Mariposa Grove, has 500 mature giant sequoias.

Crews have widened fire lines that were created around the grove during last year's massive Rim Fire as a precaution. Officials are also considering thinning out the grove to reduce potential fuel sources.

The fire had burned 6 and 1/4 square miles and destroyed a home and a duplex.

Cobb said firefighters have had to overcome steep terrain, low shrubbery and thick vegetation that have made accessing the blaze difficult. Temperatures have also been over 100 degrees.

"The conditions in general are pretty tough," she said.

Though some camping sites were closed and there was smoke visible in Yosemite's famed valley, officials said the park was largely unaffected.

Fire crews also were battling a blaze in Sierra National Forest about 60 miles northeast of Fresno that was creeping closer to the Mammoth Pool Reservoir, a popular recreation spot that supplies drinking water.

The blaze was about a mile away from the reservoir and crews were focusing their efforts on preventing its spread there, though the reservoir was not in immediate danger, said fire spokesman Dan Ware. But, if the fire flares up, it could pose a threat, he said.

"There's going to be a lot of push to protect Mammoth Pool," Ware said.

The fire had grown to nearly 11 square miles. It was 15 per cent contained.

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