As the 200 square mile ‘Rim Fire’ continues to grow across Northern California and into Yosemite National Park, Governor Jerry Brown has taken the unusual step of declaring a State of Emergency for the City and County of San Francisco. While the city sits a full 150 miles east of the wildfire, the blaze poses a sizable threat to San Francisco’s infrastructure. With some transmission lines already knocked out, Brown has raised concerns that not only could San Francisco’s power be impacted, but that further growth of the fire could threaten a reservoir that provides 85% of the water for the city’s 2.6 million residents.
The Rim Fire has now burned for over a week, and there are currently 2,100 firefighters working to contain the blaze. The fire’s scale, along with its rapid growth is causing it to create its own weather patterns. This is making it exceptionally hard for responders to predict its movement and contain the fire. “It continues to grow in several directions, said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, but added: “Most of the fire activity is pushing to the east right into Yosemite.”
In addition to the threats posed to San Francisco’s infrastructure, the wildfire has put 5,500 homes at risk. So far, four homes and 12 outhouses have been destroyed, and last week Governor Jerry Brown declared a State of Emergency for areas immediately surrounding the fire. This move frees up funds to help pay for the massive containment efforts currently underway. As Brown extended that area of “emergency” to San Francisco on Friday, he highlighted the extent of the damage that this fire could cause.
With some transmission lines and stations down, San Francisco is purchasing power from alternate sources and using existing supplies to maintain steady service. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission explained that it “has been unable to generate and transmit clean, greenhouse gas-free hydroelectric power from two of its three main powerhouses, Kirkwood and Holm. Both powerhouses and their transmission lines have been within the fire zone.” These stations typically provide all power to municipal buildings in downtown San Francisco.
Meanwhile Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, which provides 85% of San Francisco’s water sits just four miles outside of the current wildfire area. The SFPUC emphasized over the weekend that: “The Hetch Hetchy Regional Water System continues to deliver high-quality water to 2.6 million water customers in San Francisco and throughout the Bay Area” but added that in the event that the reservoir is out of commission: “We have a large supply of water stored locally, in Bay Area reservoirs such as San Antonio and Crystal Springs, if needed.”
As of the weekend, there have been no reports of power or water shortages within San Francisco, and Gov. Brown’s declaration of a State of Emergency within the area will help to release funds for additional purchasing of power and water if required.