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United States Power

Wildfire Threatens Water and Power To San Francisco 159

Posted by timothy
from the keep-your-batteries-charged dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Retuers reports that firefighters are battling to gain control of a fast-moving wildfire raging on the edge of Yosemite National Park that is threatening power and water supplies to San Francisco, about 200 miles to the west. 'We are making progress but unfortunately the steep terrain definitely has posed a major challenge,' says Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. 'Today we're continuing to see warm weather that could allow this fire to continue to grow very rapidly as it has over the last several days.' California Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency, warning that the fire had damaged the electrical infrastructure serving the city, and forced the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to shut down power lines. The blaze in the western Sierra Nevada Mountains is now the fastest-moving of 50 large wildfires raging across the drought-parched U.S. West that have strained resources and prompted fire managers to open talks with Pentagon commanders and Canadian officials about possible reinforcements. Firefighters have been hampered by a lack of moisture from the sky and on the ground. 'The wind today is going to be better for firefighting, but we are still dealing with bone dry grass and brush,' says Tina Rose, spokeswoman for the multi-agency incident command. 'This fire is very dynamic.'"
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Wildfire Threatens Water and Power To San Francisco

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  • This is not... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 24, 2013 @05:19PM (#44666099)

    This is not part of global warming.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Will the Starfleet HQ remain powered?
    • Re:This is not... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by istartedi (132515) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @05:53PM (#44666221) Journal

      Maybe, maybe not. On the one hand they release CO2, but they also release particulates and *where* those things end up in the atmosphere matters, because that impacts how fast they are reabsorbed and/or break down. Oh, you mean it's not an effect of global warming? Less sure about that.

      One thing is certain--we have only been managing the forests for about 100 years. Native Americans didn't have planes dropping retardant and massive crews with chainsaws cutting breaks. The "dark day" that occured over New England in the early 1800s is thought to be from a fire in what is now Canada and/or the northern US.

      If wildfires are increasing, my first suspect is the decades of fuel we stored when the states had enough money to put out every spark. Now we don't have the money, but we have all that fuel stored.

      • Re:This is not... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by jklovanc (1603149) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @06:29PM (#44666347)

        It is less about money than the impossibility to stop a well fueled fire once it starts. The idea that all fires are bad and must be put out is a dangerous one. Slow burning fires that occur in wet seasons are actually good. They clear out underbrush so animals can find food and they keep the fuel down. Trees live just fine through these fires as their bark protects them. Some trees even need fire to open their cones and let the seeds out. Putting out every fire just lets the fuel build to the point that the next fire is impossible to put out. These fires get very hot and kill the trees. Forest management practices have changed to include controlled burns but they need to be done more often.

        It is impossible to stop all fires and some need to be left to burn so bigger fires do not happen later.

        • Re:This is not... (Score:4, Informative)

          by Cryacin (657549) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @07:57PM (#44666751)
          You are making far too much sense. Please promptly delete your slashdot account.
        • by rtb61 (674572)

          "ERM" it ain't the wet season at the moment hence you argument is non-germane. As for appropriate seasonal burns, this requires a full funded and effective fire service. You do not start fires and ever just let them burn. Each and every burn is carefully planned, people are notified and fire breaks prepared (to ensure the burn occurs in pre-designed stages). Once the burn starts fire fighters are on hand waiting to control and limit the burn as necessary. It most certainly is not the aboriginal fire stick

          • "ERM" it ain't the wet season at the moment hence you argument is non-germane.

            He did not argue that this fire is a good one that shouldn't be put out. This one is clearly a bad fire out of control that ought to be put out.

            What he argues is that the reason this fire got that bad is because in the wet season, too few fires have been left burning. I have no idea whether what he claims is true, but please don't argue something he didn't even claim.

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          Fast-burning fires that were set every year by Natives who lived in California for over 10,000 years were also good, as they also cleared out the underbrush. Some of our early laws prohibited natives from setting these fires. Look how well that turned out!

        • Unfortunately the changes in Forest Management are about 50 years too late. These large mismanaged forests have built up so much fuel that even off-season fires are not easily controlled. Inaccessibility makes it impossibly expensive to go in and thin the fuel load. Preventing fires in these areas simply delays the inevitable. The adjoining regions that have been managed more appropriately suffer as well. Fires that develop in mismanaged areas tend to burn into these improved areas, destroying them a

      • by Nutria (679911)

        If wildfires are increasing, my first suspect is the decades of fuel we stored when the states had enough money to put out every spark. Now we don't have the money, but we have all that fuel stored.

        That argument is 90 years old. The National Park Service has been doing controlled burns for 45 years.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Except the frequency and acerage of controlled burns have decreased over the years leading to a build up of fuel, especially in California.

        • Re:This is not... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by meerling (1487879) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @06:55PM (#44666435)
          But changes in funding and laws have changed and allowed a record amount of fuel to accumulate. This was also made worse by the expanding footprint of mankind. We have towns and other installations all over the place, and most people don't want the burns and/or logging/clearing to occur near them. So it's just built up to record levels. Of course, the funding for all this hasn't kept pace, and has even been cut in various ways. (It's seems as though every time they get an increase in funding for this stuff, it gets yanked back pretty soon, with an additional cut to follow, but I don't have an exact list or anything.)
          Of course, you can't forget that there have been numerous laws and regulations put in place that limit or prevent the removal of fuel by various means in a number of locations. That's a self defeating thing once the first fire sweeps through. In a place where once there were trees that were fire resistant and needed the normal fires to cause their cones to open and disperse their seeds (fir trees are a good example), the fires with this new abundance of fuel are too hot, and actually kill or even destroy the trees along with their seeds.

          Managing the forests is a complicated and difficult thing due the previous reasons. Also, just because something was said almost a century ago, or even longer, doesn't make it any less valid.
          • by dryeo (100693)

            Fir trees, neither true Firs (Abies) nor Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga IIRC) need fire to open their cones. What Douglas Fir needs is fire to open up the forest as they're not shade tolerant. Most (all?) true firs are shade tolerant. Jack Pine and to a lesser extend some of the other pines do need fire to open their cones and at least in the BC interior massive amounts of fuel are building up due to the Pine Beetle, which does seem to be related to climate warming as the winters are no longer cold enough to cont

          • by Anonymous Coward

            20 years ago Southern California had a problem, and may still the same problem. Local agencies and governments wanted to do controlled burns. But, the Federal government wanted to decrease the number of days air quality in the region fell below certain levels. And the Feds backed it up with carrots and sticks, I think Federal Funds sent to the region. So, local Congress-people tried to get special exemptions regarding air quality during days of controlled burns, but were unsuccessful. End result at the

        • by istartedi (132515)

          Here is a brief history right from the source [foresthistory.org]. I was aware that oak savannah (sp.?) in the Bay Area was a Native-created habitat; but wasn't sure how widespread Native burning was. According to some sources; quite wide spread. Of course I'm sure Natives had campfires go out of control sometimes. OTOH, they didn't have strips of asphalt everywhere delivering hot gasoline engines driven by people with little fire-starters at their lips, which they fling from the windows of said gasoline-powered vehicles.

          • by AaronW (33736)

            I believe in this case the fire was started by lightning. Back when the natives lived here they used to intentionally start fires to burn the underbrush.

          • Re:This is not... (Score:5, Interesting)

            by TapeCutter (624760) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @09:40PM (#44667137) Journal
            Smoker here, I don't know about the US but tossing a butt out the window on a total fire ban day here in Australia is looked upon by society as a kind of negligent arson. Most fires here start naturally (lightning), next major cause is power lines, third major cause are the mentally ill, ie: real arsonists.

            As for managing the bush with fire, Australian Aborigines have been doing that for maybe 30-40,000yrs.

            For example they used fire to clear paths through trees surrounding water, the paths were wider at the top than the bottom where they met the water and were covered in tall grass, the old growth forest either side of the path acted like the walls of a canyon. The natives would regularly burn the grass at the bottom of the path to encourage new green shoots. Kangaroos were attracted to the water and new grass, but they were also trapped in a dead end. Whenever the locals got hungry there was no running all over the countryside for days throwing sharp sticks at a high velocity dinner, they just strolled down the path and clubbed the first roo that panicked and tried to get past them. This landscaping of the environment appears to be the reason that they didn't go the traditional farming route like the Torres straight islanders did, (ie: planting plants and domesticating animals).

            The two people's traded with each other regularly so the practise was known to aborigines. I can see their point, why bother with all that work when a bit of clever planning will create a natural pantry right on your doorstep. You want Wild Turkey for dinner? - Just burn a small patch of grass in the late afternoon and wait for one to come looking for his own dinner. You want fish? - just pull a fresh one out of the small pond at the end of the tribes stone fish traps. Vegetables take more skill and knowledge, you need to know where and when to burn in order to promote the growth of food plants. All this knowledge was wrapped in layers of religion and ceremony, which was simply called "the law" (pretty much in the same way the old testament was at one time "the law")

            What we white fella's call "pristine old growth forest", aboriginal elders call "poor country, been let go wild". 20kyrs before other civilizations started making huge earth or stone works, these people were sculpting an entire continent into a carefully manicured estate using fire. These days, many aborigines in the north and west of the country are now employed by the government to manage their lands using traditional burning methods, in the south east of the country where the natives and their culture have been all but wiped out, white fella's do regular slow burns in the winter and maintain fire-breaks in the forests. But when a severe multi-year drought hits the best you can hope for is nobody gets killed in the inevitable firestorm. It really is a crying shame that it has taken us 200yrs just to start recognising the unique agricultural and land management practices that were staring Captain Cook in the face when he stuck a flag in the beach.
            • by istartedi (132515)

              OK, did some more googling. Actually I'm a bit surprised at the breakdown [outsideonline.com] with cigarettes coming in at 1%.

              There are pie charts like this from various states, and the highest percentage for cigarettes was 5%. Different regions have different characteristis. For example, it's much less likely for lightning to start a fire in Virginia [blogspot.com] because the vegetation is wetter.

              I don't feel like googling the laws; but I bet you can get criminal penalties for a cigarette-caused fire in the US too. It seems like you co

      • Native Americans didn't have planes dropping retardant and massive crews with chainsaws cutting breaks.

        Forests perhaps, but Native Americans were more skilled in controlled burnings. They were the ones who taught us how to do it.

        • According to Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] all they achieved in various tribal groups was the conversion of forest to grasslands. Much better to use science and rational thought to decide what we actually want as an outcome in the future.

          • by drinkypoo (153816)

            Fire is not always the answer. But some forests run on it (like redwoods, they need fire to reproduce) and the Oaks in the West could certainly take it if it happened yearly.

      • In Reno, NV. The air here has been horrid for several days, supposedly worse than Beijing yesterday. My lungs and eyes burn, my throat hurts, and I'm dealing with intermittent headaches. And I've been staying indoors as much as possible. Hope our usual windy weather returns soon!
        • I was there last week and there was really bad smoke from the American fire, which is still burning. You might be getting both that and the Rim fire.
          • Indeed. We were getting smoked out by the American fire, then the winds changed. We are now getting smoked out by the Rim fire. I live within walking distance of the University, and couldn't see my office from home this morning. 125k acres and only 5% contained. [inciweb.org] Joy.
      • by Ol Olsoc (1175323)

        If wildfires are increasing, my first suspect is the decades of fuel we stored when the states had enough money to put out every spark. Now we don't have the money, but we have all that fuel stored.

        Pretty much this. The suppression paradigm only allowed fuel to build up over time. Droughts occur for too many reasons for any one to be attributed to AGW. And in many places on the left coast, the flora is designed for fire. So although it is trendy to apply AGW to everything these days, no one event can be assigned the AGW stamp

        I'm personally more inclined to believe that the California area is overpopulated beyond what it can reasonably sustain. This is more of a problem at the moment than AGW. In add

        • by Culture20 (968837)

          Those rooftop solar panels are looking pretty good about now.

          Until smoke and ash block the sun...

          • by Ol Olsoc (1175323)

            Those rooftop solar panels are looking pretty good about now.

            Until smoke and ash block the sun...

            That would be pretty horrifying if it reached SF. On a related note, I use the amorphous panels myself. Not as efficient as the crystalline ones, but as long as there is light, they work pretty well. The crystalline ones like full sun, no shade cutting across them anywhere,

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        On the one hand they release CO2

        Yes, but it's CO2 that was recently (by geological timescales) taken from the atmosphere. The CO2 problems stem from burning carbon that's been sequestered for millions of years.

    • by hutsell (1228828)

      It's more likely that some, perhaps a lot of these fires, including this one, are arson — initially started by people directly or indirectly related to fire departments:

      California Arsons by Firefighters [google.com]
      Firefighter Arsons [google.com]
      Percentage of Arsons by Firefighters [google.com]

      Putting constructive criticism aside ... even one, is one too many.

    • by mysidia (191772)

      On the other hand... if they allow power to be not operating in San Francisco for a significant length of time; global warming could be reduced due to reduction in capacity requirements from power plants in the area, resulting in more generators being turned off.

      • by hutsell (1228828)

        On the other hand... if they allow power to be not operating in San Francisco for a significant length of time; global warming could be reduced due to reduction in capacity requirements from power plants in the area, resulting in more generators being turned off.

        However, there are factors making the global warming thing go in the opposite direction. Fwiw, 15% of California's electricity is generated by hydroelectric plants. A legend showing all of the operational plants in California [ca.gov] makes it easier to see what might happen if they stop producing power — the oil powered plants will compensate for the loss by kicking in with extra output. This is what happened during the Enron fiasco [wikipedia.org] 12 years ago when the State experimented with private sector market pricing.

    • by Entropius (188861)

      No, it's probably not.

      Wildfires have been a part of the Western ecosystem for gajillions of years. There are lots of plants that have seeds that only germinate after a fire, or are specialized at recolonizing previously burned areas. What's not natural is putting out fires. Since we started doing that, brush has built up, and now when things burn they *really* burn -- hot enough to kill trees that can survive the natural wildfires. It's going to take a cycle of these large fires to reset the ecology to what

  • As long as our fernet supply is in good shape, we'll be fine.

  • Not to worry, (Score:4, Informative)

    by budgenator (254554) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @05:42PM (#44666177) Journal

    Rain is in the forcast for the area, it should put out the fire just before the mud-slides start.

    • Rain is in the forcast for the area, it should put out the fire just before the mud-slides start.

      I know this is a joke post, but I'll reply since it's been modded +4 informative.

      No, rain hasn't been forecast in the area. Humidity during the day is around 20%.

      Also, no, there aren't mudslides in burnt areas in this part of the state. The soil and root systems are quite different from those in southern California.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The world doesn't revolve around San Francisco. I come here for tech news,not regurgitated MSM local articles.

    • They shut down part of the electric power grid due to fire threat. That may not be quite as thrilling as Mankind's latest advances at Fukushima, but I, for one, think it notable.

  • by djupedal (584558) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @06:17PM (#44666313)
    Hetch Hechy is why SF is dependent on that area. Some ecologists claim that flooding it, saved it, as it is another Yosemite. Let's hope this calamity doesn't lead anyone to rethink that decision.
    • by tnk1 (899206)

      Unlikely, as it sounds like it would be incredibly expensive to do so, and not really gain anyone anything. There are those who believe it should have never been built, but that time has come and gone and removing it wouldn't get back what was lost without a lot of work and extra costs for SF.

  • Am I the only one wondering how water in California can be threatened by fire?

    • by tlambert (566799) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @06:37PM (#44666379)

      Am I the only one wondering how water in California can be threatened by fire?

      It's easier to push water than to pull it. So the pumping stations which are needed to push the water up hill are located at the bottom of the hill, and there is infrastructure in place along the rim (it's a rim fire) to supply power to those facilities. It's the same reason that electric power is currently at risk by the fire.

      Unfortunately, people who do not understand land management have been making rules about fire roads,controlled burns, and removal of scrub for the last number of decades, which means when a fire like this happens, it tends to be a multi-hundred-thousand acre conflagration.

    • Re:Special water? (Score:5, Informative)

      by dbc (135354) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @07:56PM (#44666749)

      Well, first off, Hetch Hetchty never should have been built. That aside..,..

      The country around there is very rugged. Its hard to imagine without seeing it. The last two winters have seen 70% of normal snow-pack, so the area is very dry. Normal annual precipitation is 11 inches. There has been no rain since April or so, which is normal. I have a cabin 30 or so miles to the south. Not threatened by this fire, but the road to my place was a firebreak for the "Telegraph Fire" of a couple of years ago -- I had orange grass for a few days from fire retardant bombings.

      Here is the deal.... the country is so extremely rugged that you *do* *not* send fire crews anywhere near an active crown fire, it can jump them in minutes and you end up with 100 roasted fire fighters and a dozen burned up Cats. There are placed where if a rancher's cattle get down in a valley full of rocks, they can't get up, and you can't ride a horse down there anyway to bring them back up. Totally forget about driving a 4WD vehicle in there, you parked that back with the horse trailer because it couldn't go any further. Taking a Cat down those slopes is suicidal. So all the fire equipment comes in and out on fire roads, which are few, narrow, and very rough. There are placed I've wanted to see, but after 40 minutes of 20 MPH kindney-busting driving in a 4WD pick-up, I turned around. That is a fire road. That is your escape route. The *one* escape route. You don't go into the fire on those, you go outside the edge of the fire, start cool-burning back-fires and cut fire breaks, and call in fire-retardant tanker bombers.

      So... the powerlines to the Hetch Hetchy and the water pipeline out of it and down the foothills run through the threatened area. The fire can easily take out the power lines. I don't know about the aquaduct, but I suspect it is vulnerable also.

      I'm relieved this time that there are two major river canyons between my cabin and the fire. My sympathy goes out to those in the path of the fire -- it's gut-wrenching to have one get close.

      • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_rN4OIS9NkI [youtube.com]

        Note that in the river canyons and also closer to Yosemite the country is a lot more rugged.

  • With all the surveillance in these united states of America AND more surveillance on the way, does anyone get the idea that MAYBE this is just another inside job (like 9/11) to curtail even more freedoms? The war on terror will never be won against the al cia-duh, the war on drugs will never be won because of all the "black" money not overseen by our illustrious CONgressMEN? Huh, what, I'm a conspiracy theorist?
    Oh never mind, go back to sleep, Bonanza's coming on in three minutes.

    For those of you who still
    • So many real issues to worry about, why get caught up in the ludicrousness that is the idea of the 9/11/01 conspiracy?

      Or if nothing else, just think about this; they didn't actually have to make it happen, to be able to take advantage of the event once it did happen. 9/11/01 happened, whatever lead to it. And it was abused to gain the government powers it didn't need, powers it used in ways that don't benefit the public. We know that. We don't need to rely on conspiracymongering to see that there are wrongd

      • by slick7 (1703596)
        Conspiracy-mongering? The beginning to wisdom is in asking what is not known. To label, to stifle legitimate inquiries, to ensure certain questions or questioners disappear from the forefront speaks volumes. None of it good, or to the benefit of children or national security. I was reminded today of what JFK said about secrecy, it should not be tolerated.
  • Firefighters have been hampered by a lack of moisture from the sky and on the ground.

    No shit, sherlock. Fires rage where the moisture isn't.

    And no, I'm not merely being snarky about people living in semi-arid areas. I live in one, right in the so-called "red zone" forest interface, and we have no fires right now because we're getting all the rain this year.

  • by Natales (182136) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @08:20PM (#44666847)
    I for one, am more concerned about the classic little towns like Groveland that live out of the tourism coming in and out of Yosemite. My wife and I go to Yosemite at least a couple of times per year, and we always stay in Groveland, a tiny town with such an old gold rush history and character. They've got the Iron Door Saloon [iron-door-saloon.com], the oldest saloon in California dating from 1852, The Groveland Hotel [groveland.com] that used to be a brothel and where every one of the rooms is named like "Lotta Crabtree", "Betty Fries Room" and "Just Juanita".

    Right now I'm less concerned about our water supply vs. the lives and livelihood of their residents and rich history of all those places.
    • by BancBoy (578080)

      They've got the Iron Door Saloon [iron-door-saloon.com], the oldest saloon in California dating from 1852 ... Right now I'm less concerned about our water supply vs. the lives and livelihood of their residents and rich history of all those places.

      Ah yes, the Iron Door Saloon. Part of the reason it is the oldest saloon in California is that it is named for the Iron Doors on the place. Which they have shut numerous times since 1852 as a fire sweeps through the area. And when the fire has passed, the Iron Doors open and they survey the damage and start serving!

  • If the power to their own servers gets cut off - do they have a peering agreement with the NSA?

  • by nick0909 (721613) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @09:47PM (#44667179)
    This fire is burning right next to actual people, not sure why we need to worry about SF 200 miles away. Actual people are right on the fire line in danger, they should be the ones reported on. I know this is a tech site and the bay is the tech center, but remember the firefighters and civilians that are actually on site, and not just experiencing a minor inconvenience.
    • I think the focus is just on the electrical/water problem, and possibly how it will affect the technological industries there, so the sad reality that people & animals are suffering is considered irrelevant since this is about tech news. (I could be wrong, but that's how I interpreted it, since Slashdot tends to only cover disasters if it involves science and/or technology in some way.)

    • This fire is burning right next to actual people, not sure why we need to worry about SF 200 miles away. Actual people are right on the fire line in danger, they should be the ones reported on. I know this is a tech site and the bay is the tech center, but remember the firefighters and civilians that are actually on site, and not just experiencing a minor inconvenience.

      Thank you. This morning the visibility from my house at the edge of the evacuation zone was under 100 feet. I couldn't see the house across the street. The effect on SF is smaller than the effect on Groveland, Pine Mountain Lake, Tuolumne City, and even Reno.

      Another point that should be made is that SF is almost exactly 100 miles west, not 200. I wonder who came up with the 200 number and why it stuck. You know what's 200 miles east of SF? Nevada.

    • by mysidia (191772)

      This fire is burning right next to actual people, not sure why we need to worry about SF 200 miles away.

      The loss of power and water supplies to metropolitan San Francisco; is a potentially more serious event; not that a wildfire destroying homes isn't serious. Where will you evacuate all the inhabitants of San Francisco to, who haven't stocked up on potable water, and how will you keep them alive?

      • by dbc (135354)

        Where will you evacuate all the inhabitants of San Francisco to, who haven't stocked up on potable water, and how will you keep them alive?

        a) Not to where I live, and b) do we have to?

        Actually, the situation isn't that dire. They can buy power from other utilities, and just in case you haven't noticed, SF is one town where having an air conditioner is pretty much pointless, so a brownout or rolling blackouts means eating cold sandwiches, no one dies of heat prostration or from lack of heat. Secondly, they can get water from other towns in the pennisula. All of the cities sell water back and forth from their wells or other capture sources.

        • by danomac (1032160)

          And the rule "if it's yellow, let it mellow" saves a lot of water.

          I take it you haven't used the washroom shortly after eating a really garlicy dish (or some asparagus, for that matter...)

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Some people build homes out of fire-resistant materials when they live in the potential path of forest fires. Others simply have the foresight to clear sufficient space around their homes, or to plant fire-resistant landscaping. Not sure why we need to worry about people who volunteered to be burned to a crisp.

      With that said, I sure wish the landlords would maintain firebreaks here. I do have a chainsaw, so in an emergency I can run around and topple trees until either I make a decent one or one falls on me

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