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US wildfire gains strength, creeps into Yosemite

/ 08:43 AM August 25, 2013

In this undated photo provided by the U.S. Forest Service, the Rim Fire burns near Yosemite National Park, Calif. The wildfire outside Yosemite National Park — one of more than 50 major brush blazes burning across the western U.S. — more than tripled in size overnight and still threatens about 2,500 homes, hotels and camp buildings. Fire officials said the blaze burning in remote, steep terrain had grown to more than 84 square miles and was only 2 percent contained on Thursday, down from 5 percent a day earlier. AP

FRESNO, California— A wildfire raging along the northwest edge of California’s Yosemite National Park gained strength Saturday, as officials cleared brush and set sprinklers to protect two groves of giant sequoias.

The iconic trees can resist fire, but dry conditions and heavy brush are forcing park officials to take extra precautions in the Tuolumne and Merced groves. About three dozen of the giant trees are affected.

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“All of the plants and trees in Yosemite are important, but the giant sequoias are incredibly important both for what they are and as symbols of the National Park System,” said spokesman Scott Gediman.

The trees grow naturally only on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada and are among the largest and oldest living things on earth.

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The Tuolumne and Merced groves in are in the north end of the park near Crane Flat. While the Rim Fire is still some distance away, park employees and trail crews are not taking any chances.

The blaze, which started a week ago, held steady overnight at nearly 200 square miles (more than 500 square kilometers). But a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection says firefighters didn’t get their usual reprieve from cooler early morning temperatures Saturday.

“This morning we are starting to see fire activity pick up earlier than it has the last several days,” said Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant. “Typically, it doesn’t really heat up until early afternoon. We could continue to see this fire burn very rapidly today.”

More than 2,600 firefighters and a half dozen aircraft are battling the blaze.

More than 5,500 homes are threatened, four have been destroyed and voluntary and mandatory evacuations are underway.

The fire has grown so large and is burning dry timber and brush with such ferocity that it has created its own weather pattern, making it difficult to predict in which direction it will move.

The tourist mecca of Yosemite Valley, the part of the park known around the world for such sights as the Half Dome and El Capitan rock formations and waterfalls, remained open, clear of smoke and free from other signs of the fire that remained about 20 miles away.

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The fire is burning toward the Hetch Hetchy reservoir, where San Francisco gets 85 percent of its water and power for municipal buildings, the international airport and San Francisco General Hospital. California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency because of the threats.

Officials with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission are running continuous tests on water quality in the reservoir that is the source of the city’s famously pure water.

Deputy General Manager Michael Carlin told The Associated Press on Saturday that no problems from falling ash have been detected.

The commission also shut two hydro-electric stations fed by water from the reservoir and cut power to more than 12 miles (19 kilometers) of lines. The city has been buying power on the open market.

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TAGS: forest fire, National Park System, sequoia trees, Sierra Nevada, wildfire, Yosemite, Yosemite National Park
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