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26 Aug, 2013 16:36

Yosemite wildfire nears San Francisco water supply

Yosemite wildfire nears San Francisco water supply

A California wildfire near Yosemite National Park is threatening a major San Francisco water source, power supplies and some of the Golden State’s giant sequoia trees.

More than 8,000 firefighters across 400 square miles are battling the raging wildlife, which is already one of the largest in California state history. Since the blaze ignited on Aug. 17, the fire has consumed about 225 square miles of forests and is only about 7 percent contained, according to state officials.

The Rim Fire is fast approaching the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, which supplies water to 2.6 million customers in the San Francisco Bay Area, thereby making up 85 percent of the city’s water supply.

The edge of the fire was only five miles away from the reservoir early Monday morning. Ash from the fire is falling onto the reservoir and a haze of smoke has caused limited visibility at the reservoir. Officials at the city’s Public Utilities Commissions have ensured residents that the quality of their drinking water is still good and that it also has a large supply of water stored in local reservoirs.

Rim Fire Continues To Burn Near Yosemite National Park (AFP Photo / Getty Images / Justin Sullivan)

“We are monitoring water quality every minute of each day to ensure its quality and safety,” the utility said in a press release posted on its website.

But a polluted water supply is not San Francisco’s only concern: the Rim Fire could also affect the city’s electricity supply if it damages the power system near the reservoir. The Public Utilities Commission has already shut down two out of three of its hydroelectric power stations near Hetch Hetchy and the utility has spent $600,000 buying power on the open market.

California Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency for San Francisco due to the threat to the city’s water and electricity supplies.

“This fire has continued to pose every challenge that there can be on a fire,” Daniel Berlant, a spokesman with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, told Fox News. “It’s a very difficult firefight.”

Rim Fire Continues To Burn Near Yosemite National Park (AFP Photo / Getty Images / Justin Sullivan)

The wildfire is also racing toward two unique groves of giant sequoias – one of three species of coniferous trees known as redwoods. These prized redwoods are the world’s largest single trees. The oldest known giant sequoia, which is based in California, is about 3,500 years in age.

“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,” park spokesman Scott Gediman told the Associated Press.

Even though thousands of firefighters are battling the blaze and the federal government provided financial assistance to mobilize further firefighting resources, the Incident Information System monitoring website InciWeb says the fire “is expected to continue to exhibit very large fire growth due to extremely dry fuels and inaccessible terrain.”

Strong winds gusting up to 50 mph are currently threatening to push the flames closer to Tuolumne City, a community located just outside of Yosemite National Park.

“Winds are increasing, so it’s going to be very challenging,” Bjorn Frederickson, spokesman for the US Forest Service, told KTVU.

Rim Fire Continues To Burn Near Yosemite National Park (AFP Photo / Getty Images / Justin Sullivan)