Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Heat drama unfolding as big story in California

California heat and drought are becoming the story of summer 2013 as reservoirs drop and wildfires burn.

Fresno is nearing two consecutive weeks of 100-plus temperatures. The record is 21 consecutive days, set in 2005. Bakersfield has a similar streak, along with a 110-degree day on July 2.

Wildfires have blackened nearly three times more acreage than last year. The foothills in Fresno County around Shaver Lake are considered in extreme fire danger in the foothills this year.

Probably the most unique story so far:  a giant sequoia that caught fire in June 2012 and continued right through the winter. It’s amazing because Sierra winters can be brutally cold and wet at 7,000 feet where this tree lives.

The San Joaquin Valley’s notorious dirty air has been worse on other years, but it has exceeded the federal ozone standard 10 of the last 11 days.

Yosemite Falls, which usually begins dwindling in early July, is almost dry.  If you look around other Sierra web cams, you’ll see a very dry watershed.

But, here’s the kicker for the San Joaquin Valley, take a look at two key reservoirs: Pine Flat and San Luis.

Pine Flat Reservoir in Fresno County is down to 30% of capacity. San Luis Reservoir in western Merced County is at 20%. With most of July and all of August still ahead, farmers and small towns may get the worst of this summer.

Yosemite plans $15 million makeover at Mariposa Grove

Yosemite National Park has a $15 million plan to make Mariposa Grove and its 484 mature giant sequoias a healthier place for the big trees, moving asphalt and structures away from their extensive roots.

Read the draft environmental documents and comment to the National Park Service by May 7.

The plan, which will be funded by the Yosemite Conservancy, is to rip out the lower parking lot and gift shop to get them off the widespread, shallow root system of the giants.

Most parking will be moved two miles away to the South Entrance, where shuttle buses will give visitors a free lift to the trees.

The Park Service wants to kick off  the facelift in time to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the grove’s protection in a federal law signed by Abraham Lincoln. The anniversary will be in June 2014.

“It was landmark legislation,” said restoration ecologist Sue Beatty, who is working on the project.

The work here is reminiscent of the makeover in Giant Forest during the 1990s when Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks removed many buildings to protect the trees.

Most of the remaining 75 groves in the world are located in the southern Sierra at Sequoia-Kings or in the Sequoia National Monument. They are considered the world’s largest tree with a life span of more than 2,000 years.

The Mariposa Grove is the largest of Yosemite’s three giant sequoia groves.