Biggest California wildfire in years shuts down roads, reaches San Francisco water reservoir
Fire creeps through the forest at the Rim Fire just outside of Yosemite National Park, California, August 27, 2013. (Reuters/David McNew )
As the Labor Day weekend approaches, the state of California closed one of its main roads into Yosemite National Park on Wednesday as the Rim Fire continues to grow, charring more than 187,000 acres of land since it erupted on Aug. 17.
The wildfire is already the largest in state history since 2007, but it showed no signs of dying down as it burned deeper into Yosemite National Park and reached the shores of San Francisco’s primary water supply.
Last week, the Rim Fire forced the closure of a stretch of Highway 120, which is the San Francisco Bay area’s main route to access the west side of the park.On Wednesday, the state was also forced to close the second of four routes into the park. Tioga Road, which is also part of Highway 120, will close onnoon local time and likely remain off limits throughout Labor Day weekend. Another part of the highway, from Buck Meadows to Crane Flat, was temporarily closed on Tuesday as firefighters battled the blaze.
“That will limit the access for visitors to and from the east side of the park, quite possibly over Labor Day weekend, which will have a significant economic impact on the area and an inconvenience for visitors,”Yosemite spokesman Tom Medema told Reuters. On average, 4 million people visit the national park each year, with the Labor Day holiday marking one of the busiest weekends of the summer.
But park superintendent Don Neubacher emphasized the necessity of the road closures to allow firefighters to battle the blaze from sections of the highway located closest to the edge of the Rim Fire.
“The work that will be performed over the next few days is instrumental in suppressing the Rim Fire within Yosemite,” Neubacher told the San Francisco Chronicle. “The safety of our firefighters working along the road is our paramount concern.”
Two Yosemite National Park campgrounds will also be shut down over the holiday weekend, thereby affecting the vacation plans of travelers who hoped to spend the weekend hiking, fishing or camping in California’s mountainous region.
The Rim Fire has already destroyed the entire Berkeley Tuolumne Family Campon Sunday, which is located near the San Francisco Bay area’s primary water supply, the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. The blaze licked the shores of the reservoir this week, littering the man-made lake with ash and soot. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission said in a statement that water quality remains healthy, and that a filtration system can get rid of any ash or soot before the supply reaches customers’ homes and businesses, Reuters reports.
The fire also damaged power and utility lines in the area near the reservoir, forcing the utility company to purchase $600,000 in outside electricity.
It has also worsened the air quality as far as Nevada, which is more than 100 miles away from the Rim Fire. In Reno and Carson City, schoolchildren were kept indoors and people were hospitalized for eye and throat irritation, the Associated Press reports.
“I can’t run. I can’t breathe. It makes me sneeze,” said bartender Renee Dishman, a 22-year-old Nevada resident.
But Alison Hesterly, spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, told Reuters that hot and dry temperatures on Wednesday with a minimum of 15 percent humidity could only add fuel to the fire and make containment a more difficult task.
“If we reach the maximum temperature [of 94 degrees Fahrenheit] and the minimum humidity, we’re expecting continued erratic fire behavior,” she said. About 23 percent of the fire’s perimeter has been contained as of Wednesday morning, but the blaze is continuing to grow. There have been no deaths attributed to the fire, but the firefighting effort has already cost $33 million and about 4,500 homes were threatened by the blaze on Tuesday. The cause of the destructive blaze still remains unknown.