Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Rim fire footprint would encompass Valley’s 5 largest cities

The Rim fire is winding down, now 92% contained at a cost of more than $125 million. But it’s the physical size of the fire that continues to capture the imagination — what does 257,135 acres look like?

Mono Lake, on the east side of the Sierra, has a footprint of 45,000 acres. Lake Tahoe is about 122,000 acres. That’s not a bad comparison if you’ve seen those lakes.

Fellow reporters have resorted to all kinds of comparisons. I recently heard a network news anchor refer to it as a third the size of Rhode Island. Others compare it to the area of Los Angeles or San Francisco.

So this is my attempt at putting the San Joaquin Valley into this picture. I wondered if the fire footprint was big enough to encompass the Valley’s major cities, including Fresno, Bakersfield, Stockton, Modesto and Visalia.

Yes, they would all fit within that footprint.

Bakersfield had the largest physical footprint I found. It is 146.6 square miles, according to the U.S. Census. Fresno, which has a bigger population than Bakersfield, is only 112.3 square miles.

The Rim fire is 402 square miles. And any way you look at it, this is the third largest fire on record in California.

Rim fire: Pray the wind doesn’t shift

Pyrocumulus clouds rising above Groveland near the Rim fire.

So far, the Rim fire at Yosemite National Park’s western doorstep hasn’t smoked out the San Joaquin Valley. Pray the wind doesn’t shift.

If you’ve seen the photographs of the immense pyrocumulus clouds erupting over the Sierra, you know it’s a pretty intense wildfire.

I’ve talked with fire experts who say you can see the clouds for 100 miles in all directions.

Pyrocumulus clouds occur with the high heat of volcanoes and wildfires. They look like cauliflower, rising tens of thousands of feet high with ash and vapor.

This is the biggest fire on the Stanislaus National Forest in a generation, now approaching 180,000 acres. On Tuesday, it ranked as the seventh largest in recorded state history.

The ash has been riding the wind into places north of the fire, such as Reno and Sacramento. In Sacramento, the PM-2.5 — think soot — standard has been breached nine times this month. That’s more than Sacramento has seen in August for the last decade combined.

Meanwhile in the Valley, which sometimes is socked in with wildfire soot, there haven’t been any PM-2.5 breaches in the standard.  Keep an eye on the weather and the wind. This fire may hang around through September, I’m told.

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.

Rangers post updates from Yosemite’s majestic high country

Wind-blown New Year’s in Yosemite high country.

On the Yosemite National Park web site, two rangers are writing updates about the rugged high-country winter in Yosemite National Park. It is fascinating if you enjoy reading about the outdoors.

The rangers are a married couple,  Laura and Rob Pilewski. They are wintering over at Tuolumne Meadows, and from their accounts of the experience, they love their jobs.

Here’s what they posted the day after New Year’s:

“Most of our week was spent on Tioga Pass. We saw a very ambitious set of coyote tracks that explored Gaylor Peak ridge all the way down to Tioga Lake though very deep snow. Weasel and pine marten tracks were seen between there and Tuolumne as well. The most notable sighting was a colorful flock of over 20 male (red) and female (yellow-green) red crossbills flying over Dana Meadow at sunset, peacefully ringing in the New Year as they passed overhead.”

For some people, that experience beats Times Square by quite a bit.

But the Sierra at 8,000 and 9,000 feet can be pretty unforgiving in December and January. The latest update says the low temperature two days after Christmas was minus 13.

The rangers stay in a cabin at Tuolumne Meadows, park officials said. They ski back to civilization occasionally for supplies, but mostly they are working — checking utilities, doing wildlife surveys, assisting with measuring the snowpack and watching the park’s buildings in the high country.

Merced River Plan story will re-emerge in Yosemite Valley

The outbreak of dreaded hantavirus dominated the news from Yosemite National Park over the last few months, leaving the important Merced River Plan a distant second this year.

But after years of legal action and failed attempts at finishing this plan, it again will be in a spotlight, possibly as early as next month.

We’re talking about the removal of Yosemite Lodge, Curry Village Ice Rink and changes in major valley campgrounds. Trust me, you will notice.

The actions are part of the National Park Service’s proposed plan to protect and manage the Merced River, which runs through the heart of Yosemite Valley. The draft plan will be released sometime between November and the early part of next year.

Among the things I mentioned earlier, the plan is expected to set some limit on the number of folks who can be in this outdoor paradise. There are hundreds of thousands of people who pass through the valley each year

Outdoor paradise is no exaggeration if you’re talking about the views surrounding this seven square mile valley. People see Half Dome, El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, Bridalveil Fall and a host of other granite features along the glacially carved cliffs.

If you haven’t followed the plan’s formation closely over the last three years, there is a pretty tall pile of documents you’d need to read for all the detail.

For a short version, go to this site and read the presentation that was part of the Aug. 2 public meeting about it. If you visit Yosemite Valley in summer, you really need to look at this.

The park service will take comment on the draft proposal. Federal leaders expect to have a final version sometime in 2013.