The Rim Fire showed no signs of stopping exactly one week after it started, as resources from around the region poured into Tuolumne County amid fears the blaze burning in and around Yosemite National Park could threaten the power and water supply to San Francisco.
By Sunday night, the fire had burned 143,000 acres, or 225 square miles - bigger than the city of Chicago - and was just 7 percent contained, according to the incident Web page. One of the biggest losses was the entire Berkeley Tuolumne Family Camp - an institution for Bay Area families since 1922, which was totally destroyed sometime on Sunday.
The fire also damaged San Francisco power and utility lines in the area and threatens the Hetch Hetchy reservoir, which supplies water to San Francisco and much of the Bay Area.
San Francisco has issued assurances that water quality remains good, however, and has maintained power supplies to customers in part by purchasing $600,000 in electricity.
California fire officials say the fire is so large and is burning with such a force, it's created its own weather pattern, making it difficult to predict which direction it will move. It has been burning since Aug. 17 in the heart of the Stanislaus National Forest just outside Yosemite.
Calfire spokesman Dave Berlant said this is the state's 14th largest fire in history.
"As the smoke column builds up it breaks down and collapses inside of itself, sending downdrafts and gusts that can go in any direction,'' CalFire spokesman Daniel Berlant told the Associated Press. "There's a lot of potential for this one to continue to grow.''
More than 5,500 homes are threatened and four were destroyed. Voluntary and mandatory evacuations were in flux late Saturday.
For some, the threat appeared to have lifted as evacuated residents from Highway 120 east to Buck Meadows and residents of Pine Mountain Lake were allowed to return to their homes beginning at 6 p.m.
CalFire said the fire remained fairly active overnight, especially on its eastern edge "with very active burning inclusive of rapid rates of spread, torching and spotting."
Crews reported significant progress along the western edge. Enough to put some crews into mop-up mode. "Good progress was made with constructing and securing lines along the southwestern, northwestern and northern portions of the fire," the incident page read. But even with that, CalFire was only reporting 7-percent containment.
This weekend the firefight was 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).
Resources on the fire lines were spreading thin. Gov. Jerry Brown announced the state had secured federal funds to help pay for the massive effort. from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Gov. Brown also declared a state of emergency in San Francisco late Friday 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.
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.
Late Saturday, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission reiterated that the fire has not interrupted normal water deliveries or impacted water quality from Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.
"The Hetch Hetchy Regional Water System continues to deliver high-quality water to 2.6 million water customers in San Francisco and throughout the Bay Area," the statement read.
So far, no one has been seriously hurt and 23 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 3,400 firefighters trying to contain the blaze located on the mountain rims of the Stanislaus National Forest.
"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."
Smoke From Fire Make Beeline to Reno
Dense smoke from major California wildfires continues to pour into the Reno area, causing event cancellations to mount and local health officials to expand pollution warnings into Tuesday.
Among the latest weekend events scrubbed were a fund-raising outdoor concert for cancer patients in Carson City, an outdoor family concert and a star-gazing party in the Minden area, and a Nevada-USF women's soccer game in Reno.
Care Flight air ambulance spokeswoman Temple Fletcher says the poor visibility also has prevented the Reno-based service from responding to some emergency calls across the region in the last couple of days.
The Washoe County Health District says the air quality index remained in the "unhealthy'' range around Reno as it hit the 158 mark mid-Saturday afternoon, down from 200 on Friday.
Another Berkeley camp, U.C Berkeley's Lair of the Bear, was not in the line of the fire despite rumors that it had burned down, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
News about the other camps in the region weren't exactly clear. Camp Tawonga had at least one structure burn over the weekend, but staff was able to save the Jewish camp's Torah by taking it to San Francisco by BART.
The fire spread to the very edges of Camp Mather, located at 35250 Mather Road near Groveland, this weekend and some minor damage was reported, according to Phil Ginsburg, the city's director of Recreation and Parks. However, no additional damage had been seen as of Sunday afternoon, and all structures remained intact, Ginsburg said in a statement released Sunday evening.
Two firefighting strike teams and a hand team are deployed at Camp Mather for structural defense, Ginsburg said.
San Jose officials said on Saturday that fire crews were still defending structures within the city's family camp, which was only around 7 miles away from where the fire started. As of Thursday, the fire had destroyed several tents on the camp's grounds, according to San Jose city officials.
Lisa Fernandez, Bay City News and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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