News / USA

Yosemite Blaze Rages Closer to Reservoir for San Francisco

A fire truck drives past burning trees as firefighters continue to battle the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park, California, Aug. 26, 2013
A fire truck drives past burning trees as firefighters continue to battle the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park, California, Aug. 26, 2013
Reuters
One of the largest California wildfires in decades roared largely unchecked for a 10th day through forests in and around Yosemite National Park on Monday and threatened a reservoir that supplies most of San Francisco's water.
 
As of midday, the eastern flank of the so-called Rim Fire had burned to within a mile of Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy reservoir on the Tuolumne River, raising concerns about the possibility of ash and soot contaminating the sprawling artificial lake.
 
On Saturday, flames had been no closer than four miles from the reservoir, which supplies 85 percent of the water consumed by 2.6 million people in San Francisco and several communities in three adjacent counties about 200 miles (320 km) to the west.
 
Roughly 300 million gallons of water is carried to the San Francisco Bay area daily through tunnels and an aqueduct, and reservoir samples show water quality has remained healthy since the fire began on Aug. 17, according to a spokeswoman for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.
 
“There's no evidence of a change in the water quality, and there's no change in our ability to deliver that water to all of our customers,” said the spokeswoman, Suzanne Gautier.
 
If fallout from the blaze were to foul the Hetch Hetchy, its water could be diverted to a smaller Bay Area reservoir for filtration at a local treatment plant before delivery to customers, she said.
 
The Rim Fire, named for a Stanislaus National Forest lookout point called Rim of the World, has already damaged two of the three hydropower generating stations linked to the Hetch Hetchy reservoir that supply electricity for all of San Francisco's public facilities, such as hospitals and firehouses.
 
Gautier said the city for now was continuing to draw on reserve power stored for emergencies and purchasing additional electricity on the open market to make up for the difference.
 
Inmate firefighters walk along Highway 120 after a burnout operation as firefighters continue to battle the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park, California, Aug. 25, 2013.Inmate firefighters walk along Highway 120 after a burnout operation as firefighters continue to battle the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park, California, Aug. 25, 2013.
x
Inmate firefighters walk along Highway 120 after a burnout operation as firefighters continue to battle the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park, California, Aug. 25, 2013.
Inmate firefighters walk along Highway 120 after a burnout operation as firefighters continue to battle the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park, California, Aug. 25, 2013.
Despite threats to water and power, firefighters have made headway against the blaze, although rugged terrain and the fire's remote location were complicating efforts to subdue the flames, fire managers said.
 
“There are places where they can't get in,” said Mike Ferris, a spokesman for the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. “It's just inaccessible.”
 
As of Monday morning, fire crews working with hand tools and backed by bulldozers and water-dropping helicopters had carved containment lines around 15 percent of the blaze's perimeter, more than double Sunday's figure, though the fire's footprint continued to grow.
 
Over 200 Square Miles Scorched
 
The blaze in the western Sierra Nevada Mountains was among the fastest-moving of some 50 large wildfires raging across the drought-parched U.S. West. The fires have strained resources and prompted fire managers to open talks with Pentagon commanders and Canadian officials about possible reinforcements.
 
According to the latest estimates, the Rim Fire has charred nearly 150,000 acres (60,703 hectares) or 234 square miles - the size of the city of Chicago - most of that in the Stanislaus National Forest west of Yosemite.
 
That ranks the blaze as the largest wildfire in California since August 2009, when the so-called Station Fire ravaged nearly 145,000 acres of the Angeles National Park north of Los Angeles, and one of the 20 biggest in state history, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
 
By Monday morning, nearly 22,000 acres (8,903 hectares) within Yosemite had burned, forcing the closure of the main road leading into the park from the San Francisco Bay area and prompting the evacuation of 74 campsites in the park's White Wolf area, officials said.
 
But the majority of the 1,200-square-mile Yosemite National Park, including the Yosemite Valley area famous for its towering rock formations, waterfalls, meadows and pine forests, remained open to the public.
 


The fire was not believed to pose a threat to the concrete structure of the 90-year-old O'Shaughnessy Dam, which forms the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, or of the granite basin it was built into, Gautier said.
 
But in addition to the immediate potential fallout of ash and soot, Hetch Hetchy's water could be left vulnerable to heavy runoff of debris and topsoil stripped of vegetation by the blaze and washed into the reservoir by winter rains, she said.
 
“When you burn down everything, you've got a moonscape out there when floods can contaminate the water,” Governor Jerry Brown said during a visit to the fire zone on Monday. He declared a state of emergency for San Francisco on Friday due to threats to the city's water supply.
 
The blaze has destroyed about a dozen homes and 1,000 outbuildings, and some 4,500 additional dwellings remained threatened. Residents in the tiny town of Tuolumne and other communities near the western edge of the park were evacuated, but evacuation orders have been lifted for the enclaves of Pine Mountain Lake and Buck Meadows.
 
The cause of the wildfire remained under investigation. More than 3,700 firefighters have been assigned to the blaze, which was burning over steep terrain through scrub, oak and pine, stoked by stiff winds, high temperatures and low humidity.

You May Like

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials and human rights organizations assert that Pakistani authorities are using deadly attack at school in Peshawar as pretext to push out Afghan refugees More

At Boston Bombing Hearing, Sides Spar Over Boat

At final pre-trial hearing, lawyers for suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, prosecutors disagree on whether vessel where he hid from police can be shown to jurors More

Iran Judiciary 'Picks' Lawyer for Detained WP Reporter

Masoud Shafii has been attempting to secure official recognition as Rezaian’s attorney, but is not allowed to see his client in prison More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More