August 26, 2013
A massive wildfire racing through the Yosemite wilderness — fueled by high winds — is threatening San Francisco’s fresh water and power supply as well as California’s iconic giant sequoias.
It’s one of several fires statewide being fought by more than 8,000 firefighters across nearly 400 square miles. The fire has consumed approximately 225 square miles of picturesque forests. Officials estimate containment at just 7 percent.
“This fire has continued to pose every challenge that there can be [in] a fire: inaccessible terrain, strong winds, dry conditions,” Daniel Berlant of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said on Sunday.
The fire continues burning in the remote wilderness area of Yosemite, but park spokesman Tom Medena told the Associated Press it’s edging closer to the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, the source of 85 percent of San Francisco’s famously pure drinking water, as well as power for a number of key city buildings, including the airport. The city has issued assurances that the water quality remains good, but the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has shut two hydro-electric stations fed by water from the reservoir and cut power to more than 12 miles of lines. The city has been buying $600,000 worth of power on the open market to ensure San Francisco doesn’t go dark.
Meanwhile, park officials are clearing brush and setting sprinklers to protect two groves of giant sequoias. The iconic trees can resist fire, but dry conditions and heavy brush are forcing extra precautions to be taken in the Tuolumne and Merced groves. About three dozen of the giant trees are affected.
“All of the plants and trees in Yosemite are important, but the giant sequoias are incredibly important both for what they are and as symbols of the National Park System,” park spokesman Scott Gediman told The Associated Press on Saturday.
The trees grow naturally only on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada and are among the largest and oldest living things on earth.
The Tuolumne and Merced groves are in the north end of the park near Crane Flat. While the Rim Fire is still some distance away, park employees and trail crews are not taking any chances.
Fire officials are using bulldozers to clear contingency lines on the Rim Fire’s north side to protect the towns of Tuolumne City, Ponderosa Hills and Twain Hart. The lines are being cut a mile ahead of the fire in locations where fire officials hope they will help protect the communities should the fire jump containment lines.
Firefighters were hoping to advance on the flames Monday but strong winds, gusting up to 50 mph in some places, were threatening to push the blaze closer to Tuolumne City and nearby communities.