Update: Rim Fire

Don Bartletti, Los Angeles Times / August 25, 2013

A week ago last Friday I was at the Mendocino Coast Photography Gallery talking to Ron LeValley about getting a ride for a pending pelagic trip when a couple from Sonora, CA came in. During a conversation with Ron they said they were glad to get away from the smoke which at times could be bad. I asked which fire they were talking about and they said the Rim Fire. Back on August 25th I had blogged about the Rim Fire and it’s effect on San Francisco. I hadn’t thought about that fire for some time but for the people who lived near it, the effects on them continued. 

According to this website, the current statistics for the fire are:

Acres Burned: 257 135 (402 square miles) Structures Threatened: 0
Containment: 95% Residences Destroyed: 11
Fire Start Date: August 17 2013 Commercial Property Destroyed: 3
Fire Cause: Under Investigation Outbuildings Destroyed: 98
Cost to date: $127.2 million Injuries: 10
Total Personnel 196
Fire Update
The Rim fire is now being managed by the Groveland and Mi Wuk Ranger Districts on the Stanislaus National Forest. Minimal fire spread is expected in the next 24 hours and fire behavior continues to be creeping and smoldering. There is one 800-1000 acre pocket of vegetation near Kibbie Lake that remains with a potential to burn. Resources will continue to patrol the fire perimeter and mop-up any heat that poses a threat to containment lines while continuing to implement the suppression repair plan. Commercial recreation along the Tuolumne and Clavey Rivers continues to be impacted. The developed areas of Hetch-Hetchy remain evacuated.

Final containment is estimated  to be on October 27th. While they say the cause of the fire is still under investigation, it has been reported that a hunter’s illegal fire getting out of control was the cause. The Rim Fire is the third largest recorded California wildfire.

What happens after a fire of this magnitude? This article reports: “Scientists are assessing the damage from a massive wildfire burning around Yosemite National Park, laying plans to protect habitat and waterways as the fall rainy season approaches.

Members of the federal Burned Area Emergency Response team were hiking the rugged Sierra Nevada terrain Saturday even as thousands of firefighters still were battling the four-week-old blaze, now the third-largest wildfire in modern California history.

Federal officials have amassed a team of 50 scientists, more than twice what is usually deployed to assess wildfire damage. With so many people assigned to the job, they hope to have a preliminary report ready in two weeks so remediation can start before the first storms, Alex Janicki, the Stanislaus National Forest BAER response coordinator, said.”

Team members are working to identify areas at the highest risk for erosion into streams, the Tuolumne River and the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, San Francisco’s famously pure water supply.”

“About 5 square miles of the burned area is in the watershed of the municipal reservoir serving 2.8 million people – the only one in a national park.

“That’s 5 square miles of watershed with very steep slopes,” Janicki said “We are going to need some engineering to protect them.”

So far the water remains clear despite falling ash, and the city water utility has a six month supply in reservoirs closer to the Bay Area.”

This article explains how new mapping technology may have saved the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. “The planes were easy to assemble, but the larger problem was knowing where to drop the payload. According to Russ Johnson, disaster response chief for a mapping company called Esri, firefighters usually target fires as they cross ridges, allowing the retardant will flow downhill and cover more ground. But the threat to the water supply had forced their hand. The fire had to be stopped on a relatively flat plane, and even minor changes in slope would make an immense difference in the payload’s effect on the fire. Suddenly, firefighters needed detailed meter-to-meter elevation data on a patch of land that no one had cared about just hours before. “You have very little room for error,” Johnson says, “and the consequences can be really devastating.”

This Los Angeles Times article titled, “Risky measures to save big trees from Rim fire worked”,  documents the plan to save the Tuolumne and Merced groves of giant sequoia, and the Rockefeller grove, one of the last stands of giant sugar pine untouched by logging.

On Aug. 30, a Friday, a group of firefighters gathered at the lookout to launch a risky plan to protect some of Earth’s oldest and largest living organisms.

Even Ben Jacobs, the division commander, was nervous.

Jacobs, 55, had fought wildfires and managed prescribed burns at Sequoia Kings Canyon National Park. But he had seen crews take chances earlier in the week trying to save family camps and businesses. If they’d gambled for buildings, what would they do for living giants?

He also worried that if crews lost control of the backfires they were about to ignite, flames could spread for miles, even as far as the Merced River, west of the park’s famous valley.

“Listen,” he said. “Nobody wants to be the guy who burned down Yosemite.”

 
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