The epic Rim Fire is not only threatening large swaths of wild forest and communities near Yosemite National Park, but the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission water and power system. As a result, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for the City and County San Francisco on Friday due to the effects of the fire.
The fire has charred more than 125,000 acres, destroyed 16 structures and as of Friday was only 5 percent contained since it started Saturday in the Stanislaus National Forest, according to the U.S. Fire Service.
The Hetch Hetchy Reservoir is located in the national park where the fire had spread as of this morning, but SFPUC deputy general manager Michael Carlin said Friday that thus far, the fire has had no affect on water quality or supply for the 2.6 million customers in the Bay Area.
However, the fire is moving toward the reservoir, which has prompted the utility commission to enact contingency plans to ensure seamless delivery of water to local residents and businesses, Carlin said.
Water is drawn from 270 feet below the surface of Hetch Hetchy and sent through a dam and tunnels that send it toward the Bay Area.
“We don’t see any degradation at this time,” he said. “But we are monitoring the situation.”
The water is at a safe clarity, he said, and although ash on the water is a concern, it has not presented any issues thus far, he said.
According to the proclamation of a state emergency penned by the governor, the wildfires could possibly cause temporary interruption of electricity and/or water delivery to San Francisco residents and businesses.
The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has already been forced to shut down transmission lines, according to the governor.
More than 12 miles of power lines have been damaged in the fire and other damages are possible but unknown at this point, Carlin said.
There has been limited opportunity to evaluate any damage to facilities and all water department crews have been evacuated from the area, he said.
Because of the blaze, part of the utilities’ power system has been taken offline. Only one of three powerhouses that use water to create hydroelectricity is in use.
Enough power is still being generated and the utility is working with PG&E to ensure enough supplies, Carlin said.
The wildfires are threatening to damage property, equipment and resources of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department, Brown said in a statement.
The state of emergency has been put in place to protect the safety and property of the state that impacts the City and County of San Francisco.
Brown said the state of emergency orders all agencies of state government to perform their duties under the direction of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services and the State Emergency Plan.
The cause of the fire is under investigation. More than 2,000 firefighters have responded to the expanding blaze, according to the forest service.