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Fast-moving Wildfire Enters Yosemite, Threatens San Francisco Water, Power

Saturday, 24 Aug 2013 12:47 PM

Firefighters on Saturday battled to gain control of a fast-moving wildfire raging on the edge of Yosemite National Park that is threatening power and water supplies to San Francisco about 200 miles (322 km) to the west.

The so-called Rim Fire, which had grown to just over 125,000 acres (50,585 hectares) as of early Saturday, remained largely unchecked with extreme terrain hampering efforts at containment.

"We are making progress but unfortunately the steep terrain definitely has posed a major challenge," said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

"Today we're continuing to see warm weather that could allow this fire to continue to grow very rapidly as it has over the last several days," Berlant said.

California Governor Jerry Brown on Friday declared a state of emergency, warning that the fire had damaged the electrical infrastructure serving the city, and forced the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to shut down power lines.

There have been no reports of blackouts in San Francisco.

Ashley Taylor, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service, said high humidity and firefighting efforts through the night had helped some.

"Firefighters are still working with the same difficult situation, and they're really taking every opportunity they can to take hold of this fire," Taylor said. "They're working very hard to take this down."

The Hetch Hetchy Reservoir provides water to 2.6 million customers in the San Francisco area, and Brown in his declaration said the city's water supply could be affected if the blaze affects the reservoir.

On Friday, the fire was about 4 miles (6.4 km) west of the reservoir and some 20 miles (32 km) from Yosemite Valley, the park's main tourist center. It was consuming brush, oaks and pine and was about 5 percent contained as of late Friday.

The fire had blackened about 11,000 acres (4,450 hectares) in the northwestern corner of Yosemite as of Friday afternoon.

Berlant said about 2,700 firefighters were expected to be on the front lines on Saturday to fight the fire, which started on Aug. 17 in the Stanislaus National Forest.



Yosemite, one of the nation's major tourist destinations, attracted nearly 4 million visitors last year. The park has been posting updates and alerts on its website. (Alerts: http://www.nps.gov/yose/index.htm)

The blaze in the western Sierra Nevada Mountains is now the fastest-moving of 50 large wildfires raging across the drought-parched U.S. West that have strained resources and prompted fire managers to open talks with Pentagon commanders and Canadian officials about possible reinforcements.

Taylor said there had been one reported injury, a heat-related injury to a firefighter, due to the fire. About 4,500 residences, three commercial buildings and 1,000 outbuildings are currently threatened by the fire, she said.

Through Friday, the fire had destroyed four homes and 12 outbuildings.

Taylor said there is no plan to close Yosemite National Park due to the fire. However, park officials have closed areas in its northwestern edge throughout the week, including the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir area, Lake Eleanor, Lake Cherry and Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias.

Highway 120, one of four access routes to Yosemite, which is known for its waterfalls, giant sequoia groves and other scenic wonders, was temporarily closed. The highway leads to the west side of the 750,000-acre (300,000-hectare) national park.

The 2013 fire season has already drained U.S. Forest Service fire suppression and emergency funds, causing the agency to redirect $600 million meant for other projects like campground and trail maintenance and thinning of trees to reduce wildfire risks, agency spokesman Mike Ferris has said.

The service has spent some $967 million to protect lives and properties amid a season that has seen fires in Idaho, Utah, Colorado and California threaten homes and communities that border forest and wild lands where fire is more dangerous and costly to fight, Ferris said. (Additional reporting by Noreen O'Donnell; Editing by David Bailey and Vicki Allen)

© 2015 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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