Yosemite Rim Fire Prompts Alert for City of San Francisco

A wildfire in Northern California has spread to the fringes of Yosemite National Park and prompted Governor Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency for the San Francisco area because of the potential effect on its utilities.

The blaze, which originated in Stanislaus National Forest, has reached a wilderness area of Yosemite, according to the park website. Temporary interruption of electricity and water delivery to San Francisco is possible, Brown said in a statement yesterday.

The U.S. Forest Service said the blaze, which began Aug. 17, has covered 125,620 acres (50,836 hectares) according to an update posted by the agency about 11:15 a.m. local time today. The so-called Rim Fire is 5 percent contained, and firefighters are using aerial tankers to try to suppress the blaze, the website said.

“We’re up against very hot conditions and a decade of drought has left some of the fuels about as dry as they can get,” said Tom Medema, a spokesman for Yosemite National Park, in a telephone interview. “We’ve done a very good job of preparing the structures ahead of the fire just in case the fire should reach more densely populated areas.”

Assessing Situation

Medema said the fire is burning about 20 miles from Yosemite Valley, which is the most heavily populated area of the park.

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission was able to get crews into its Kirkwood and Holm powerhouses today after they curtailed operations with the fire nearby, said spokesman Tyron Jue. He said crews were assessing the situation at the two plants. SF PUC’s Moccasin plant is still up and running, the commission said in an update on its Website.

Yesterday, the commission bought electricity in California’s wholesale power markets to make up for deactivating lines and powerhouses in the vicinity of the fire.

The commission also said it doesn’t expect any water issues from the fire, which is burning about 4 miles (6 kilometers) from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, which supplies water to 2.6 million customers in San Francisco and throughout the Bay Area.

About 4,500 structures are threatened as the Rim Fire moves eastward in the direction of the California communities of Tuolumne City, Twain Harte and Long Barn, which are in and around Stanislaus National Forest. These towns are about 140 miles (225 kilometers) east of San Francisco.

‘Extreme Peril’

Several large fires have already damaged utilities in Southern California in recent months.

A blaze that spread across almost 30,000 acres north of Los Angeles in June triggered “multiple forced outages” on lines that connect to Northern California and the Pacific Northwest, according to the California Independent System Operator Corp., which manages the state’s power grid.

“Conditions of extreme peril to the safety of persons and property exist within the state that affect the City and County of San Francisco,” Brown said.

The damage to Yosemite has been minimal and all lodges and recreational activities remain open and accessible, according to the park’s website.

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