GROVELAND, Calif. — Firefighters battling the giant wildfire burning in the Sierra Nevada added a California National Guard Predator drone to their arsenal Wednesday to give them almost immediate views of any portion of the flames chewing through rugged forests in and around Yosemite National Park.

The MQ-1 unmanned aircraft being remotely piloted hundreds of miles away quickly alerted fire bosses to a new flare-up they otherwise wouldn't have immediately seen.

"They're piping what they're seeing directly to the incident commander, and he's seeing it in real time over a computer network," said National Guard Lt. Col. Tom Keegan.

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

The 12-day-old Rim Fire continued to grow, expanding to 301 square miles. But crews building lines around the flames made significant progress, and containment jumped to 30 percent. Cooler temperatures and lighter winds are aiding firefighters.

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," California fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said Wednesday. "It's not nearly as active as it was last week."

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.

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 started Aug. 17 and quickly exploded in size, becoming one of the 10 largest California wildfires on record. Its progression slowed earlier this week when it moved from parts of the forest with thick underbrush that had not burned in nearly a century to areas that had seen fire in the past two decades.

But it will burn for months, possibly until California's dry season ends this fall.

"My prediction is it will burn until we see rain," said Hugh Safford, a regional ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service.

That means the smoke could continue to foul air north of Yosemite in the Lake Tahoe basin and neighboring Nevada, although residents received something of a reprieve Wednesday when for the first time in three days blue sky was sometimes visible through the haze.

The air quality index in the Reno area still had improved only to the "unhealthy" level, and in Douglas County, Nev., school children were kept indoors again when the index registered in the "hazardous" category Wednesday morning.

The air was clear, however, in the tourist mecca of Yosemite Valley, home to the towering Half Dome and El Capitan rock formations and the 2,425-foot plunge of Yosemite Falls.

The Rim Fire has destroyed 111 structures, including 11 homes, and posed a threat to ancient giant sequoias.

The fire also has threatened San Francisco's water supply at the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, but Stratton said it was burning itself out as it approached and that crews were lighting back burns to push it back into the wilderness.

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Associated Press writer Scott Sonner in Reno, Nev., contributed to this report.

Earlier on HuffPost:

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  • Firefighters enter a grove of giant sequoias in Yosemite National Park in this photo made on Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013, and released by the National Park Service on Tuesday. (AP Photo/National Park Service)

  • AP10ThingsToSee - Inmate firefighters walk along state Highway 120 as firefighters continue to battle the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park, Calif., on Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

  • The Rim Fire burns through trees near Yosemite National Park, Calif., on Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Russell Mitchell

    Firefighter Russell Mitchell, left, monitors a back burn during the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park, Calif., on Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • The Rim Fire burns through trees near Yosemite National Park, Calif., on Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • A videographer records the Rim Fire burning through trees near Yosemite National Park, Calif., on Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • A smoke plume from the Rim Fire rises nera Yosemite National Park, Calif., on Monday, Aug. 26, 2013. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • A helicopter reloads fire retardant as firefighters continue to battle the Rim Fire in Tuolumne City, Calif., on Monday, Aug. 26, 2013. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Aerial Water Drop on Rim Fire

    In this Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013 photo provided by the California Army National Guard on Monday, Aug. 26, 2013, Sgt. Chris Boni, crew chief from the 1-140th Aviation Battalion (Air Assault) from Los Alamitos Joint Training Base (JFTB), releases water to help control the Rim fire below near Yosemite National Park, Calif. The The UH-60 Black Hawk Crews are battling the Rim wildfire, one of the largest in California history, in support of the U.S. Forest Service and CAL FIRE. (AP Photo/U.S. California Air National Guard, Master Sgt. Julie Avey)

  • In this Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013 photo provided by the California Army National Guard on Monday, Aug. 26, 2013, Sgt. Chris Boni, crew chief from the 1-140th Aviation Battalion (Air Assault) from Los Alamitos Joint Training Base (JFTB), releases water to help control the Rim fire below near Yosemite National Park, Calif. The The UH-60 Black Hawk Crews are battling the Rim wildfire, one of the largest in California history, in support of the U.S. Forest Service and CAL FIRE. (AP Photo/U.S. California Air National Guard, Master Sgt. Julie Avey)

  • Smoke clouds and bands of haze from the Rim Fire in the western Sierra Nevada loom up some 20 miles behind the famed granite monolith known as Half Dome, right center, seen from 11,500-foot Mt. Clark in Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park, Calif., Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013. (AP Photo/Tami Abdollah)

  • A fire truck drives past burning trees as firefighters continue to battle the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park, Calif., on Monday, Aug. 26, 2013. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • A burned SUV sits in front of a campground destroyed by the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park, Calif., on Monday, Aug. 26, 2013. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • A helicopter drops water over a hot spot while battling the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park, Calif., on Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • A.J. Tevis

    Firefighter A.J. Tevis watches the flames of the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park, Calif., on Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • The Rim Fire burns along Highway 120 near Yosemite National Park, Calif., on Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • The Rim Fire burns along Highway 120 near Yosemite National Park, Calif., on Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • A smoke rises from smoldering trees as firefighters continue to battle the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park, Calif., on Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Firefighter Charlie Ferris, of Los Angeles, watches a smoke plume from the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park, Calif., on Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • A firefighter watches for spot fires during a burnout operation while battling the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park, Calif., on Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Inmate firefighters walk along Highway 120 after a burnout operation as firefighters continue to battle the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park, Calif., on Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • The smoke generated by the Rim Fire rises under a star-filled sky near Yosemite National Park, Calif., on Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013. Fire crews are clearing brush and setting sprinklers to protect two groves of giant sequoias as a massive week-old wildfire rages along the remote northwest edge of Yosemite National Park. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • GROVELAND, CA - AUGUST 28: Cows graze in a field as the Rim Fire burns in nearby hills on August 28, 2013 near Groveland, California. Over 3,500 firefighters are battling the destructive Rim Fire that has charred 180,000 acres and has entered a section of Yosemite National Park. The fire is currently 23 percent contained. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • GROVELAND, CA - AUGUST 28: A CalTrans worker takes a break during a tree cutting operation in an area that was burned by the Rim Fire during a media tour of the fire area on August 28, 2013 near Groveland, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • GROVELAND, CA - AUGUST 25: A burned car sits on the side of the road after being consumed by the Rim Fire on August 25, 2013 near Groveland, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, CA - AUGUST 25: Trees burned by the Rim Fire stand on August 25, 2013 in Yosemite National Park, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • GROVELAND, CA - AUGUST 25: Flames from the Rim Fire consume trees on August 25, 2013 near Groveland, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • GROVELAND, CA - AUGUST 25: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service firefighter Corey Adams sits on a tree stump as he monitors the Rim Fire on August 25, 2013 near Groveland, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • GROVELAND, CA - AUGUST 24: West Stanislaus County Fire firefighters monitor the Rim Fire along highway 120 on August 24, 2013 near Groveland, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • GROVELAND, CA - AUGUST 24: A firefighter uses a hose to douse the flames of the Rim Fire on August 24, 2013 near Groveland, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, CA - AUGUST 24: Smoke from the Rim Fire lingers over the O'Shaughnessy Dam at Hetch Hetchy Reservoir on August 24, 2013 in Yosemite National Park, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, CA - AUGUST 24: U.S. Forest Service firefighter Chris Brossard monitors a spot fire while battling the Rim Fire on August 24, 2013 in Yosemite National Park, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • GROVELAND, CA - AUGUST 25: Flames from the Rim Fire consume trees on August 25, 2013 near Groveland, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, CA - AUGUST 24: A firefighter uses a hose to douse a spot fire while battling the Rim Fire on August 24, 2013 in Yosemite National Park, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • In this undated photo provided by the U.S. Forest Service, the Rim Fire burns near Yosemite National Park, Calif. (AP Photo/U.S. Forest Service)

  • GROVELAND, CA - AUGUST 22: A firefighter from Central Calaveras Fire monitors the Rim Fire on August 22, 2013 in Groveland, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, CA - AUGUST 22: Smoke from the Rim Fire is visible near the Hetch Hetchy reservoir on August 22, 2013 in Yosemite National Park, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • GROVELAND, CA - AUGUST 22: A firefighting helicopter flies in front of a plume of smoke from the Rim Fire on August 22, 2013 in Groveland, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • In this undated photo provided by the U.S. Forest Service, the Rim Fire burns near Groveland Ranger Station in Groveland, Calif. (AP Photo/U.S. Forest Service)

  • GROVELAND, CA - AUGUST 22: Firefighters from the Colorado based South Arkansas Fire District monitor the Rim Fire on August 22, 2013 in Groveland, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • GROVELAND, CA - AUGUST 22: Firefighters monitor a plume of smoke from the Rim Fire on August 22, 2013 in Groveland, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • GROVELAND, CA - AUGUST 22: A U.S. Forest Service firefighter monitors a radio while battling the Rim Fire on August 22, 2013 in Groveland, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • GROVELAND, CA - AUGUST 22: A firefighter from the Kern County Rio Bravo Hotshots looks for flying embers while battling the Rim Fire on August 22, 2013 in Groveland, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • GROVELAND, CA - AUGUST 22: Firefighters douse hot spots while battling the Rim Fire on August 22, 2013 in Groveland, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • GROVELAND, CA - AUGUST 21: Firefighters from Ebbetts Pass Fire District monitor a back fire as they battle the Rim Fire on August 21, 2013 in Groveland, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • GROVELAND, CA - AUGUST 21: A firefighter from Ebbetts Pass Fire District uses a drip torch to light a back fire as they battle the Rim Fire on August 21, 2013 in Groveland, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • GROVELAND, CA - AUGUST 21: Firefighters from Ebbetts Pass Fire District monitor a back fire as they battle the Rim Fire on August 21, 2013 in Groveland, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • GROVELAND, CA - AUGUST 21: A firefighter from Ebbetts Pass Fire District monitors a back fire as he battles the Rim Fire on August 21, 2013 in Groveland, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • GROVELAND, CA - AUGUST 21: Firefighters from Ebbetts Pass Fire District monitor a back fire as they battle the Rim Fire on August 21, 2013 in Groveland, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • GROVELAND, CA - AUGUST 21: A firefighter from Ebbetts Pass Fire District uses a drip torch to light a back fire while battling the Rim Fire on August 21, 2013 in Groveland, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • BUCK MEADOWS, CA - AUGUST 21: Fire consumes trees along US highway 120 as the Rim Fire burns out of control on August 21, 2013 in Buck Meadows, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)