Rim fire: Near Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, the fight is far from over

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. -- A thick blanket of smoke hung Thursday over Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, where a team of fire lookouts was stationed to monitor the Rim fire to make sure it does not flare up next to San Francisco’s water supply.

The blaze moved through this area in the northwestern part of Yosemite National Park days ago, but the firefight is far from over. While the fire burned so intensely in some areas it left only blackened, defoliated trees and ashen slopes, other patches were left largely intact and could ignite and pose a threat in the days and weeks to come.

“There’s a lot yet to burn,” said Capt. Marshall Jordan of the Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District as he and his four-man crew looked down over the steep canyon below the O’Shaughnessy Dam, straining to see through the smoke.

They were part of a five-engine team of fire lookouts tasked with watching for spot fires and protecting structures in this crucial area near the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. At the fire’s boundary east of here, fire crews have been lighting low-intensity back burns to clear out fuels and keep the fire from advancing farther into rugged, wilderness areas of the national park.


The fire lookouts were expecting to see more flames near the dam by the afternoon, when the inversion layer lifts, the sun shines through and winds tend to pick up.

They will stay here for a 24-hour shift, observing the fire’s behavior and using water to protect the dam, reservoir and other structures if they are threatened by flames.

The lookouts are just one contingent of the more than 4,800 firefighters battling the Rim fire in its 13th day.

“We’re observers right now,” Jordan said. “But we’re just one small piece of the puzzle.”

Officials estimate the fire will be fully contained by Sept. 10, but it is expected to keep smoldering for weeks and won’t be truly out for months.

“This fire will burn until the first rains or until the snow flies, ” said Lee Bentley, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service.


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