SF mayor says water supply survived Rim Fire

September 3, 2013 7:23:35 PM PDT
The massive Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park is now 75-percent contained. Tuesday afternoon, an evacuation advisory for Ponderosa Hills and the areas along the south side of Highway 108 to Pinecrest has been lifted.

The Rim Fire has now burned more than 235,000 acres since it broke out 18 days ago. More than 4,300 firefighters are still on the lines trying to put out the fire. It's the fourth largest fire in state history. There have been 111 structures destroyed, including 11 homes.

However, there is some ore encouraging news regarding the fire near Yosemite; the three generators that feed power to San Francisco are back up and running. They had to be shut down last week as the flames spread. Those facilities are located in the town of Moccasin in Tuolumne County.

San Francisco's top utilities officials joined Mayor Ed Lee at the base of the Moccasin Power Station to say the city's power and water facilities survived the massive Rim Fire, mostly intact.

"I can say today, I can say tomorrow that our water quality is the same as it was before the fire," Harlan Kelly from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

At the height of the fire, there was deep concern San Francisco's main source of water -- the Hetch Hetchy reservoir -- would be contaminated, but though the fire did burn near the reservoir, the water quality was never seriously compromised.

"The water delivery to 2.6 million people never got interrupted, at all," said Lee.

Two out of three electric substations at Holm and Kirkwood were damaged. There will be significant work needed to repair those facilities and to shore up the hillsides around them, left barren by the fire.

PUC officials estimate the price tag for the Rim Fire will be in the millions of dollars, but San Francisco officials are confident that cost will not be passed along to ratepayers.

"The interruptions that we have, they're all going to be covered by insurance, along with the other assets. So we're not going to get to the ratepayers on this, I believe, because we've done enough on the front end to make sure we're covered," said Lee.

And while San Francisco's assets mostly survived the Rim Fire, the interests of those who depend on the Tuolumne River will be impacted for years to come.

"The rainy season is just around the corner. We've got 240,000 acres of forest that's burned and with that bare soil, we can see landslides and erosion and sediment washing into the river," said Patrick Koepele from the Tuolumne River Trust.

A full assessment of the damage can't be completed, until the Rim Fire is fully contained.


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