Saturday, August 24, 2013

Rural wildfire creates a state of emergency for San Francisco?

We awoke this morning to the news that Jerry Brown had declared a state of emergency in San Francisco.  (Read NPR coverage here and NYTimes coverage here).  Why, you might ask?  Has there been an earthquake?  No.

The state of emergency is because of a wildfire burning more than a hundred miles away, in a decidedly rural part of California--just outside Yosemite National Park and, more recently, also inside the park.

But rural communities are more directly affected by the fire.  They include Groveland, population 601, which is 25 miles west of the park entrance.  Under even more imminent threat are Tuolumne City, population 1,779,  Ponderosa Hills (which media are reporting has a population of a couple hundred), and Pine Mountain Lake, population 2,796, a private gated community very near to Groveland.  All of this is in nonmetropolitan Tuolumne County, which has a population of 54,008 and a population density of 24.9 persons/square mile.

The New York Times gets credit for noting (in the last two paragraphs of its story) the impact of the fire on Groveland's economy:
Usually filled with tourists, the streets of Groveland are swarming with firefighters, evacuees, and news crews, said Doug Edwards, owner of Hotel Charlotte on Main Street. 
“We usually book out six months solid with no vacancies and turn away 30-40 people a night. That’s all changed,” Mr. Edwards said. “All we’re getting for the next three weeks is cancellations. It’s a huge impact on the community in terms of revenue dollars.”
But the big story here--what seems to be garnering national headlines and Jerry Brown's attention--is the threat to San Francisco's water and power supply, much of it linked to Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.  The New York Times reported this morning:
The wildfire had already done some damage and threatened more to the lines and stations that pipe power to San Francisco, so Mr. Brown, who had declared an emergency for the fire area earlier in the week, extended it to the city. 
San Francisco also gets 85 percent of its water from the Yosemite-area Hetch Hetchy Reservoir that is about 4 miles from the fire, though that had yet to be affected. But it was forced to shut down two of its three hydroelectric power stations in the area.
At least the rural area was declared a state of emergency earlier in the week ... though that didn't make national news.  

The Los Angeles Times reports this evening:
Firefighters were able to gain containment of an area Saturday near the Hetch Hetchy water and power system, which supplies electricity and water for San Francisco. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has been forced to shut down two of its three hydroelectric power stations because of the fire.
The Times has also labeled the fire "one of the largest wildfires in recent California history." So far, the fire has burned more than 125,000 acres.  It is what is called a "crown fire," which means it is spreading tree-top to tree-top, rather than burning along the ground. 

This story provides yet another illustration of urban dependence on the rural.  But coverage of the story suggests that it is a dependence that urban interests stubbornly continue to acknowledge.  See a related post about other natural disasters in rural places a few years ago here.

P.S.  Nearly a week later, the New York Times is running this, "Wildlife Chokes Off Tourist Towns' Livelihood," on August 30, 2013.  The focus here is much more on the impact of the fires in closer spatial proximity to where they're occurring--in rural California.  

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