Rim Firestorm Prompts Calif. Governor to Declare State of Emergency for SF

The fire is threatening San Francisco's electrical infrastructure.

By Lisa Fernandez and Lori Preuitt
|  Saturday, Aug 24, 2013  |  Updated 6:07 PM PDT
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The raging Rim Fire has prompted California Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency for San Francisco. Jodi Hernandez reports on the latest developments on the wildfire.

The raging Rim Fire has prompted California Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency for San Francisco. Jodi Hernandez reports on the latest developments on the wildfire.

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RAW VIDEO: Rim Fire Rages Near Yosemite National Park

The Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park is hard to battle because of the steep terrain. It was only 5 percent contained as of Aug. 21, 2013.
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The raging Rim Fire that's been burning out of control in Tuolumne County for a week forced California Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency 150 miles away in San Francisco.

Brown said he declared the emergency because the wildfires have caused damage to electrical infrastructure serving the City and County of San Francisco. San Francisco has been forced to shut down two of its three hydroelectric power stations in the area, and further disruptions or damage could have an effect on the power supply.

New numbers from the fire line Saturday showed the fire did not grow much overnight, and stood at 125,620 acres. But, it is still considered a firestorm that is raging out of control. Crews reported only five-percent containment.

The fire now covers nearly 200 square miles, or more than four times the size of San Francisco.

Fire officials said the effort this weekend is focused on holding the fire east of the north fork of the Tuolumne River. Crews are also trying to strengthened fire lines above the community of Pine Mountain Lake to save home and along the eastern edge of the fire which has crossed into Yosemite National Park to save a "national treasure." (See new fireline map below).

In Gov. Brown's emergency declaration statement for San Francisco read in part that the fires "now threaten damage to property, equipment, and resources of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission."

Brown declared it an "imminent threat to critical infrastructure assets."

The fire threatens both power and water supply to San Francisco. 

The city gets 85 percent of its water from the Yosemite-area Hetch Hetchy reservoir. So far, the water quality has not been impacted by the fire.

The Hetch Hetchy Reservoir is east of the fire area. There is fear that ash from the water could impact water quality or the water supply system.

Thousands of Residents Threatened

On Friday, officials also issued new voluntary evacuation orders to the towns of Tuolumne City and Ponderosa Hills. Both are about five miles from the fire line, Forest Service spokesman Jerry Snyder said.

 A mandatory evacuation order remained in effect for part of Pine Mountain Lake, a summer gated community a few miles from the fire.

"It feels a little bit like a war zone, with helicopters flying overhead, bombers dropping retardant and 10 engine companies stationed on our street,'' said Ken Codeglia, a Pine Mountain Lake resident who defied evacuation orders of his community. "But if the fire gets very hot and firefighters evacuate, I will run with them.''

Although Pine Mountain Lake and other communities are threatened by the fire, within Yosemite the blaze is burning in a remote area and is not threatening the famed Yosemite Valley.

While Yosemite remains open, the wildfire caused the closure of a 4-mile stretch of State Route 120, one of three entrances into Yosemite on the west side, devastating areas that rely on tourism. Only one campground, Hodgdon Meadow, was closed, according to the National Park Service website.

"Usually during summer, it's swamped with tourists, you can't find parking downtown,'' said Christina Wilkinson, who runs Groveland's social media pages and lives in Pine Mountain Lake. "Now, the streets are empty. All we see is firefighters, emergency personnel and fire trucks.''

So far, no one has been hurt and only 16 structures -- four of them homes -- have burned despite the massive size.

Still, the rugged terrain and hot weather conditions have proved to be terribly difficult for nearly 2,000 firefighters trying to contain the blaze located on the mountain rims of the Stanislaus National Forest. Until Friday, the fire had stayed on the outskirts of Yosemite National Park.

The flames were continuing east, with San Jose Family Camp and Camp Tawonga still in the path of the fire as it moves of the middle fork of the Tuoloumne River Canyon, according to the U.S. Forest Service and CalFire.

More than 4,500 residences are threatened.

"The biggest challenge is the fire itself,"  Lee Bentley of the U.S. Forest Service told NBC Bay Area on Thursday. "It's just too doggone dangerous."

And several communities had been asked to voluntarily leave their homes.

"I'm a little shook up," said Groveland, Calif. resident Fred Faiella who had to find a safe place to sleep. "But it's in God's hands. I just gotta let what happens, happen."

 

For the last week, camps frequented by Bay Area residents such as Camp Tawonga, San Jose Family Camp, Berkeley Tuolumne Camp and San Francisco’s Mather Camp were also asked to evacuate and shut down their programs. On Friday, the fire was still actively burning east along the Mather Road and southeast along Pilot Ridge.

NBC Bay Area's Jodi Hernandez and Bay City News and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
 

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