California wildfire burns deeper into Yosemite

Blaze burns to within a mile of San Francisco’s primary water reservoir

Fire managers reported making headway in their 9-day-old battle to curtail flames roaring through dry brush and forests along the northwestern edge of Yosemite National Park, putting utilities that serve the city of San Francisco in danger.

 

One of the largest wildfires in California history roared deeper into Yosemite National Park today while flames on the opposite side of the sprawling blaze crept closer toward thousands of homes outside the park, fire officials said.

The blaze yesterday burned to within a mile of a reservoir that serves as the primary water supply for San Francisco and surrounding communities some 200 miles to the west, dropping some ash onto the surface of the artificial lake.

But officials said testing of samples taken from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir show that water quality remains healthy. If the water should become fouled by too much ash and soot and require filtration, it can be diverted through a treatment plant near San Francisco before being delivered to customers, they said.

Meanwhile, a firefighting force of some 3,700 personnel, backed by teams of bulldozers and water-dropping helicopters, continued to make headway in their drive to encircle and suppress the flames.

By late yesterday, containment lines had been established around 20 percent of the fire’s perimeter, nearly triple Sunday’s figure, though the overall footprint of the blaze continued to grow.

“We are making progress,” Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said today, adding that fire managers were looking forward to a cooling trend forecast for the end of the week. “That would bring some much-needed relief,” he said.

The blaze was among the fastest-moving of dozens of large wildfires raging across the drought-parched US West. The fires have strained resources and prompted fire managers to open talks with Pentagon commanders and Canadian officials about possible reinforcements.

The so-called Rim Fire has charred nearly 180,000 acres (74,843 hectares) - an area larger than the land mass of Chicago - since it erupted August 17th, most of that in the Stanislaus National Forest west of Yosemite, Mr Berlant said. It ranks as the largest California wildfire since October 2007, when the Witch Fire torched nearly 198,000 acres and more than 1,600 structures in San Diego County, and one of the 10 biggest in state history, according to CalFire records.

Firefighters hacking through dense, dry brush and trees to create clearings in the rugged terrain rushed today to shore up buffer zones around some 4,500 homes threatened by the blaze on its northwestern flank, Mr Berlant said.

Most of those dwellings have been ordered evacuated or were under advisories urging residents to leave voluntarily or be ready to flee at a moment’s notice. The fire already has destroyed dozens of homes and cabins, Berlant said, but no serious injuries have been reported. As of Sunday night, the opposite side of the blaze had scorched some 22,000 acres of Yosemite, forcing the closure of some campgrounds in the northern part of the park and the main entrance road from the San Francisco Bay area.