YOSEMITE – A fire the size of Chicago is burning near the world famous Yosemite National Park consuming up to 251 square miles of pristine wilderness known for housing a grove of giant Sequoias, the oldest trees on Earth.
The massive fire rages a few miles away from Yosemite Village, a popular tourist attraction which had been gearing up for Labor Day tourists and one of its busiest holiday weekends of the year. However, while the town appears mostly empty except for fire trucks and firemen, the park rangers remain optimistic about the coming holiday weekend.
“We are minimally impacted here (Yosemite Village) with all visitors services and campgrounds open to the public,” said Park Ranger Kari Cobb, a spokesperson for the Yosemite National Park.
Cobb says that tourists should not cancel their Labor Day weekend plans unless they are heading to the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir because access in and around it are closed.
The Hetch Hetchy reservoir lies 150 miles west of the San Francisco Bay area and supplies water to more than 2.8 million people in the area. California Governor Jerry Brown issued a State of Emergency because of the threat to water and power supplies, then called on all possible resources to be used in battling the massive wildfire.
In San Francisco, utility officials monitored the Hetch Hetchy reservoir inside the park for clarity and used a gravity-operated pipeline system to move water to reservoirs closer to the city. Utility officials have given the public assurances that there will be at least a six-month supply of water in reservoirs near the Bay area.
More than 3,700 firefighters from all over the nation are working on the ground and from the air trying to reach some level of containment on this stubborn wildfire that was still growing on the western edge of the park. Firefighters on the ground are aided by 15 water-carrying helicopters and more than 460 fire engines.
As of Tuesday, the wildfire has burned more than 251 square miles, state fire officials said Monday evening and firefighters have managed a 20 percent containment. The fire is moving north away from Yosemite Village toward Lake Tahoe with hopes that the grove of giant Sequoias will be spared. However, some fire officials estimate it could take weeks, months and possibly even into the winter for full containment unless some much needed rain arrives.
Between the 24 hours of Monday and Tuesday, the fire has been moving northeast towards Lake Tahoe and is largely in wilderness areas with no lodging. Fire officials said the fire has extreme growth potential and is in extremely rugged terrain.
However, smoke and ash continue to be an issue with visibility down to a hundred feet to less than a miles within areas of the fire’s perimeter. Mandatory evacuations were ordered for residents in some areas in the path of the fire while other towns, including Tuolumne and Mi-Wuk Village, were under advisory evacuations.
Most residents that live in the wilderness region realize that fire is this is part of the ecosystem and do burns in here every so often. There are plants and things within the canyons that are reliant on the fire to open their seeds that have adapted to that environment.”