The Rim Fire burns near Buck Meadows, California, on Saturday night.
California: A colossal wildfire raging on the edge of Yosemite National Park has produced dangerous weather patterns by fuelling thunderous pyrocumulus clouds that can alter the wind direction rapidly, potentially trapping firefighters, forest officials said yesterday.
The so-called Rim Fire grew to 134,000 acres by early yesterday morning, up 9,000 acres from the day before, with smoke columns rising more than 30,000 feet, said US Forest Service spokesman Dick Fleishman.
“That’s a real watch-out situation for our firefighters when they see that kind of activity, they know that the wind could actually move that fire right back on them,” Fleishman said. “That’s been happening every afternoon.”
The fire was threatening power and water supplies to San Francisco, about 320km to the west, and scorched part of Yosemite, a park known for its waterfalls, giant sequoia groves and other scenic wonders. Started on August 17 in the Stanislaus National Forest, the fire remained largely unchecked with extreme terrain and increased wind hampering efforts at containment, Yosemite National Park spokesman Tom Medema said. Seven percent of the wildfire is now contained, he said.
The fire blackened just over 12,000 acres in the northwest corner of Yosemite by yesterday, up marginally from the day before, consuming brush, oaks and pines and threatened some giant sequoia trees in the park, Medema said.
Officials have closed parts of the park’s northwestern edge throughout the week, including the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir area, Lake Eleanor, Lake Cherry and the Tuolumne and Merced giant sequoia groves.
The fire by yesterday burned within 5km of the reservoir and was still 32km from Yosemite Valley, the park’s main tourist centre, Medema said. About 2,700 firefighters were expected to be on the front lines yesterday to fight the fire.
Officials said they have no plans to shut down the entire park or its top attractions.
California Governor Jerry Brown on Friday declared a state of emergency for San Francisco, saying the fire had damaged the electrical infrastructure serving the city and forced the Public Utilities Commission to shut down power lines.
The Hetch Hetchy Reservoir provides water to 2.6 million customers in the San Francisco area and Brown in his declaration said the city’s water supply could be affected if the blaze harms the reservoir, most likely by contaminating its water with ash.
There was no evidence of ash in the reservoir by Saturday evening, said Tyrone Jue, spokesman for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.