Tuesday 27 August 2013

California's wildfire

Yosemite fire rages, could burn for months

26 August, 2013

One of California's largest fires ever is raging near the Yosemite National Park. It has burned more than 225 square miles of forest and is now threatening some 4,500 buildings, as 3,400 firefighters face "every challenge there can be." Officials warn that it could be months before it is 100% contained.

The so-called Rim Fire had burned about 134,000 acres as of late Sunday — about 9,000 acres more than it had the previous day — making it the 14th largest fire since California began keeping records on wildfires in 1932 and the second largest in Tuolumne County.
Officials said that firefighters had contained about 7 percent of the fire, which began just over a week ago, and that it had caused no loss of life or significant property damage. And although the fire has burned some acreage in Yosemite, the most visited area of the park, the Yosemite Valley, is not threatened so far, officials said.

CBS News reports one official saying that firefighters are facing "every challenge that there can be." And, shockingly, that it could be close to winter before the fire completely under control.
NASA/Public Domain
The fire is so large, it can now be seen from space:

You can see smoke from the Rim Fire from space. PHOTO via ‪@nasa: ‪pic.twitter.com/oD3vT5ugW7


The NASA photo shows the smoke plume and surface temperatures indicating the location of fire:
Red outlines indicate hot spots where MODIS detected unusually warm surface temperatures associated with fires. Winds blew a thick smoke plume toward the northeast. A smaller fire—American fire—burned to the north.

In addition to the threat to the Giant Sequoia's and Yosemite National Park, the fire is also causing concerns about the drinking water supply for San Francisco.
Ash from the fire is currently falling like snow flakes on the water in the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, which is the main source of drinking water for 2.6 million people in the Bay Area. Officials say the water is being filtered and is still safe to drink. However, the fire has also caused problems with energy production in the area.
Two of three power production plants downriver from the reservoir had to shut down before the fire swept through, prompting the city to rely on reciprocal agreements with other utilities and to spend about $600,000 buying supplemental power to make up the shortfall, Jue said.
Late last week, the fire doubled in size, according to CNN.

Though no single fire (or storm or flood, etc.) can or should be attributed to climate change alone, there is no doubt that wildfires are connected to climate change. The dry and hot conditions that make wildfires more-likely to occur are caused by global warming. Last month, when asked about climate change deniers, Tom Boatner, the federal government's chief of fire operations, said:
"You won't find them on the fire line in the American west anymore, because we've had climate change beat into us over the last 10 or 15 years. We know what we're seeing and we're dealing with a period of climate in terms of temperature and humidity and drought that is different from anything people have seen in our lifetimes."
As of this writing, there are more than 8,300 firefighters working to contain more than 400 square miles of fire in California alone. And, unfortunately, climate scientists predict this is the new normal and will become even worse unless we work to reverse global warming by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.
We'll continue to monitor the fire and update this story as it develops.

California Rim Fire showers ash on reservoir
A huge fire in and around California's Yosemite National Park has continued to spread and now covers almost 230 sq miles (600 sq km), officials say.

26 August, 2013

The Rim Fire is now raining ash on a key reservoir that supplies water and hydro-electric power to San Francisco.

City officials say they are moving water to lower reservoirs and monitoring supplies for contamination.

The blaze is also threatening thousands of homes and some of California's renowned giant sequoia trees.

On Monday officials said the fire was 15% contained after burning for more than a week - up from 2% containment on Friday.

Strong winds are making the fires more difficult to control.

"This fire has continued to pose every challenge that there can be on a fire," said Daniel Berlant of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The blaze began on 17 August in the Stanislaus National Forest but the cause is still unknown.

Trevor Augustine from Unified Rim Fire Command Group outlines the conditions facing fire crews

Evacuations, some voluntary and some mandatory, are taking place. Despite the threat to some 5,000 homes, only a few have been destroyed.

California Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency for San Francisco 150 miles (220km) away as the blaze is also threatening power lines that bring electricity to the city.

Ash is said to be falling like snow on the Hetch Hetchy reservoir, which supplies San Francisco with 85% of its water. Visibility in the smoke-ridden area is down to 100ft (30m), but officials say the water quality is still good.

"The water we are receiving is still of good quality,'' said Harlan Kelly Jr, general manager of the city's Public Utilities Commission.

"We're bringing down as much water as possible and replenishing all of the local reservoirs."

Two of three hydroelectric power stations serving the city were shut down, forcing the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to spend $600,000 (£385,000) buying power on the open market.

The blaze reached the park's backcountry at Lake Eleanor on Friday. But it remains some 20 miles away from Yosemite's main tourist area.

The park authorities say they have no plans to close the attraction as most of Yosemite, which hosts up to 15,000 visitors a day in the summer, is unaffected by the fire.

Areas on the north-western edge of the park, including that round the Hetch Hetchy reservoir and Lake Eleanor, have been closed throughout the week.

A stretch of motorway, Highway 120, which is one of three entrances to the west side of the park, remains closed. Visitors are being urged to use alternative routes from the west.

The Rim Fire is one of 50 major wildfires burning in the western US. Lack of rain and snow have made it a bad year, with 5,700 fires being tackled so far.

The Beaver Creek fire in Idaho has destroyed some 45,000 hectares near the ski resort of Sun Valley.

Meanwhile, five wildfires in Yellowstone National Park have scorched about 18 sq miles of mostly remote areas.

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