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The Latest: Vehicle tow chain sparked small California fire

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Associated Press
LOS ANGELES

The Latest on wildfires burning across the U.S. West (all times local):

5:30.m.

Authorities say that one of the smaller wildfires in Northern California was sparked accidentally by a vehicle tow chain dragging on the ground and was not arson.

The Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office said the driver had been towing a recently acquired trailer.

The office had opened an arson investigation into the wildfire near the community of Covelo, California, prompted by concerns from residents.

The fire destroyed a large amount of wooden fencing and threatened homes but no homes were lost. It is 100 percent contained.

[post_ads]Covelo is about 180 miles (290 kilometers) north of San Francisco.

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12:45 p.m.

Authorities say a Utah firefighter who died battling the largest wildfire in recorded California history was hit by a falling tree.

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection division chief Todd Derum tells the Press Democrat of Santa Rosa that Matthew Burchett was battling flames when a tree fell on him and other firefighters.

Derum, who is the division chief for Sonoma, Lake and Napa counties, says three others were injured Monday.

He says Burchett and the Utah crew were working alongside California firefighters, who rushed to give him medical aid after he was injured.

Mendocino Complex Fire spokesman Christian Linnemann said Tuesday that he couldn’t immediately confirm how Burchett died because of the ongoing investigation.

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This corrects the Mendocino Complex Fire spokesman’s last name to Linnemann.

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11:50 a.m.

Cars are lining up to enter Yosemite National Park after smoke from a nearby wildfire closed its famed valley for nearly three weeks.

Among the first to enter the park Tuesday was Dutch tourist Gert Lammers, who said he felt lucky to get to see Yosemite after thousands of tourists had to cancel trips.

He said he didn’t mind the lingering smoke in the air and was looking forward to seeing some of the park’s iconic waterfalls and granite cliffs.

Park spokeswoman Jamie Richards said air quality had improved since Yosemite Valley was shut July 25 but visitors should still expect to see and smell some smoke.

Richards said the park was running limited services, with some campgrounds still closed and limited food services.

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10:45 a.m.

At least nine homes and cabins in a historic district of Glacier National Park have been destroyed in a wildfire that raged through the Montana park’s busiest area and prompted the hasty evacuation of hundreds of visitors.

Park officials said Tuesday that the lost buildings include the so-called Big House at Kelly’s Camp, a resort developed early last century serving auto travelers along Glacier’s famous Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Glacier Conservancy Executive Director Doug Mitchell says it’s a “gut punch” to lose some of the park’s iconic buildings.

Firefighters managed to save several historic structures that caught fire. Among them was Lake McDonald Ranger station and the Wheeler Cabin, built by the family of former Montana U.S. Sen. Burton Wheeler.

The 4-square-mile (10-square-kilometer) is burning near other historic cabins and buildings around Lake McDonald.

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9:45 a.m.

A Utah firefighter who died battling the largest recorded wildfire in California history leaves behind a wife and 6-year-old son.

City of Draper Mayor Troy Walker told reporters Tuesday that Matthew Burchett was a battalion chief who joined the Salt Lake City suburb’s fire department in May after 20 years with another agency in the area. He says the 42-year-old had extensive experience battling wildfires.
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Walker had no details about Burchett’s death. Authorities say Burchett died Monday night at a hospital after being injured in the Mendocino Complex Fire north of San Francisco.

He was one of five firefighters the city sent to California in early August.

Fellow Battalion Chief Bart Vawdrey says Burchett had worked other large fires and was hired to oversee Draper’s wildland firefighting efforts because of his experience. He says Burchett was a good man with a dry wit.

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8:45 a.m.

Yosemite National Park officials say tourists returning after a nearly three-week closure could still face smoky air from a wildfire.

Most of the park reopened Tuesday after flames burned in remote areas of Yosemite and left it shrouded in smoke during the height of tourist season.

Park officials say a major road from the south, Highway 41, and a popular park attraction known as Glacier Point will remain closed for likely at least another week for fire operations.

Despite the reopening, officials have warned that the air quality in Yosemite Valley has been poor and are recommending visitors reduce prolonged times outside or heavy exercise.
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12 a.m.

Most of Yosemite National Park is set to reopen after a 20-day closure that cost the surrounding communities an estimated $50 million in lost tourism dollars.

Yosemite Valley, which includes most of the park’s major attractions, is set to reopen Tuesday but hotels and other businesses say it will likely be weeks before bookings return to normal levels.

The nearly three-week closure was the result of a nearby massive wildfire that has burned 150 square miles and killed two firefighters since it started July 13.

The blaze is one of several in California that in less than three weeks have destroyed more than 1,000 homes and killed at least a dozen people. The latest fatality was a Utah firefighter killed Monday in a blaze north of San Francisco.

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