Monday, August 26, 2013

Yosemite Besieged By Massive Wildfires

At more than 120,000 acres, the Rim Fire continues burning all through the Central Sierra Nevada range, and has burned areas within one of the nation's crown jewel national parks - Yosemite.

While Yosemite Valley is safe for now, the same can't be said of the Hetch Hetchy area.

Hetch Hetchy Reservoir taken 4/2013

The Hetch Hetchy Reservoir is San Francisco's primary water supply and is a major supplier of power to the Bay area. While the water supply is still functioning, the power systems have been damaged by the wildfires that have encroached on the area.

15,000+ acres have already burned inside the national park, and while wildfires are part of the natural landscape and even the sequoias need fires on occasion to help new growth, the lack of rain and snowpack over the past few years has left the area a tinderbox for extreme fire.
California Governor Jerry Brown on Friday declared a state of emergency for San Francisco, saying the fire had damaged the electrical infrastructure serving the city and forced the Public Utilities Commission to shut down power lines.

On Sunday, the fire moved to within 2 miles of the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, which serves 85 percent of San Francisco with water, according to San Francisco Public Utilities Commission spokesman Tyrone Jue.

Flames were also raging near two famed groves of towering sequoias that are among the largest and oldest living things on the planet. The trees can withstand fire, but brutal conditions — including harsh winds churning as much as 40 mph and thick brush — have prompted park employees to take extra precautions in the Tuolumne and Merced groves, according to The Associated Press.

“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 AP.

NBC Bay Area reported that the Berkeley Tuolumne Family Camp had been destroyed by flames. It said staff and campers were evacuated beforehand and no injuries were reported. The camp dates to 1922.

The Rim Fire is that kind of extreme fire. It's burning hot enough to create its own weather, and it's burning the crown of the forest, meaning that it's exceptionally difficult for firefighters to contain. The difficult terrain is also extremely challenging, and the firefighters are trying to protect structures and buildings in the fire zone, but they've been fighting a losing battle so far.

The fire is barely contained, and it may take a change in the weather pattern for firefighters to get the upper hand.


This is a map of the affected area:

View Larger Map

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