Rim Fire getting closer to Hetch Hetchy Reservoir as more drinking water sent to Bay Area 

click to enlarge JAE C. HONG/AP
  • Jae C. Hong/ap

Flames from the wildfire raging in and around Yosemite National Park reached the main reservoir for The City's drinking water supply Monday, which officials pledged is safe even as they took steps to move water away from the ash and fire and closer to the Bay Area.

Now in its 11th day, the Rim Fire has grown from a few hundred acres near Groveland on the state Highway 120 route to Yosemite to about 150,000 acres by Monday morning.

The thousands of firefighters battling the blaze have checked its westward growth, but it continued to spread to the east and northeast toward Yosemite and Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, according to Cal Fire.

By the afternoon, flames were burning "in the immediate vicinity" of the reservoir and O'Shaughnessy Dam, which holds the majority of the Tuolumne River water that 2.6 million customers in the Bay Area rely on, according to Charles Sheehan, a spokesman with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

Despite flames and ash falling into the reservoir, the water remains at quality levels unchanged since before the fire, according to the SFPUC, which manages the 167-mile gravity-powered system that delivers the water here.

Even so, the SFPUC has moved water away from Hetch Hetchy and into reservoirs closer to The City.

Hetch Hetchy was "very full" before the fire started, according to Sheehan, who added that The City's water managers have as a result sent water to reservoirs in San Mateo and Alameda counties, where some of The City's supply also is kept.

The SFPUC also has been able to assess damage to and conduct repairs at some of its hydroelectric powerhouses, two of which were shut down last week as a precaution.

Initial repairs were made at the Kirkwood Powerhouse, but no power deliveries will resume until 12½ miles of high-voltage power lines affected by the fire can be fixed, Sheehan said.

The full extent of the damage is unknown.

To replace the lost Hetch Hetchy power, which runs city buses and municipal buildings, San Francisco has spent $600,000 to buy power from others, Sheehan said.

The dam is held in by 300 feet of solid concrete and is considered fireproof, and the area from where water is drawn is 268 feet below the surface.

While the ash is nontoxic, if more is to fall into Hetch Hetchy, a several-months-long supply of water is on hand at Bay Area reservoirs, said Sheehan, adding that the SFPUC has several longer-term options as well.

The SFPUC also can start filtering the water at its treatment plant in Sunol in Alameda County; Hetch Hetchy's remote location means it is one of the few major municipal water supplies in the country that is not filtered.

Water can be bought from other local sources, such as the East Bay, to which it is now connected via pipe thanks to the $4.6 billion Water System Improvement Program, Sheehan said.

Meanwhile, the fire caused minor damage to city-owned Camp Mather, although details were scant Monday.

The fire has passed through Mather, according to Cal Fire, which had used the camp as a staging area for about 200 firefighters and vehicles late last week.

No buildings at Mather were lost, though there has been some "minor structural damage," according to Sarah Ballard, a spokeswoman for the Recreation and Park Department, which manages the camp.

Flames obliterate the Tuolumne Camp, a 'Berkeley tradition' for decades

The raging Rim Fire destroyed the Berkeley-run Tuolumne Camp on Sunday, according to the U.S. Fire Service.

The family camp, located at 31585 Harden Flat Road near Groveland, opened in 1922 and had offered a bit of summer respite for generations.

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates said Monday that losing the camp — comprised of several cabins, a dining hall, a main lodge and other recreational facilities on the Tuolumne River — was "so sad" and recalled the retreat as "a Berkeley tradition."

While the fire burned through the camp, the full extent of the damage has not been determined, Bates said.

The mayor said he had been planning to go at the end of the summer to see improvements made to buildings in the past few years.

"I was anxious to see it," he said.

Bates said he will likely still visit, but now it will be to assess damage and work on future plans for the charred space. — Bay City News

Crews battle huge wildfire raging in Yosemite area

TUOLUMNE CITY — Crews working to contain one of California's largest-ever wildfires gained some ground Monday against the flames threatening several towns near Yosemite National Park and giant sequoias.

Containment of the Rim Fire more than doubled to 15 percent, officials said Monday.

The fire posed a threat to giant sequoias in Yosemite National Park. Crews were using sprinklers and lighting fires to clear brush, though the fire remained several miles from the massive trees, said Glen Stratton, an operations section chief on the fire.

Another part of the fire that is also burning into the park was not of major concern because it was running into rocks that are not heavily forested, Stratton said.

While it has closed some backcountry hiking, the fire has not threatened Yosemite Valley, where sights such as the Half Dome and El Capitan rock formations and Bridalveil and Yosemite falls draw throngs of tourists. Most of the park remained open to visitors. Park spokesman Scott Gediman said Monday morning that he was not aware of any additional threats to the park overnight.

The U.S. Forest Service said about 4,500 structures were threatened by the fire. At least 23 structures have been destroyed, though officials have not determined whether they were homes or rural outbuildings.

Additional personnel brought in to help raised the total number of firefighters to more than 3,600 on Monday, said Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant.

"Our containment doubled overnight, but there's still a lot of work to be done," Berlant said. — AP

About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has worked as a reporter in San Francisco since 2008, with an emphasis on city governance and politics, The City’s neighborhoods, race, poverty and the drug war.
Pin It

More by Chris Roberts

© 2019 The San Francisco Examiner

Website powered by Foundation