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Originally published August 23, 2013 at 5:56 PM | Page modified August 23, 2013 at 11:11 PM

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San Francisco utilities at risk as wildfire spreads into Yosemite

The Rim fire was only 5 percent contained and continued to grow in several directions, including east into Yosemite National Park.

The Associated Press

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FRESNO, Calif. — An out-of-control wildfire spread into Yosemite National Park on Friday, and California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for the city of San Francisco 150 miles away because of the threat to the city’s utilities.

The Rim fire hit the park as officials geared up for a busy Labor Day weekend. It has closed some backcountry hiking but was not threatening the Yosemite Valley region, one of California’s most popular tourist destinations. The valley carved by glaciers offers visitors such iconic sights as the Half Dome and El Capitan rock formations and Bridalveil and Yosemite falls.

The blaze did, however, pose a threat to the lines and stations that pipe power to San Francisco, so Brown, who had declared an emergency for the fire area earlier in the week, made the unusual move of extending the emergency declaration to the city across the state.

San Francisco gets 85 percent of its water from the Yosemite-area Hetch Hetchy reservoir, about 4 miles from the fire, though that had yet to be affected. But the city was forced to shut down two of its three hydroelectric-power stations in the area.

The city has been buying power on the open market and using existing supplies, but further disruptions or damage could have an effect, according to city power officials and the governor.

The weeklong blaze on the timbered slopes of the Western Sierra Nevada has spread to nearly 130,000 acres and was only 5 percent contained late Friday. It continued to grow in several directions, although “most of the fire activity is pushing to the east, right into Yosemite,” said Daniel Berlant, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Smoke blowing across the Sierra into the state of Nevada forced officials in several counties to cancel outdoor school activities and issue health advisories.

Authorities urged more evacuations in nearby communities, where thousands have already been forced out by flames.

The fire was threatening about 5,500 residences, according to the U.S. Forest Service. The blaze has destroyed four homes and 12 outbuildings in several different areas. More than 2,000 firefighters were on the lines, and one sustained a heat-related injury.

While the park remained open, the blaze closed a 4-mile stretch of Highway 120, one of three entrances into Yosemite on the west side. Two other western routes and an eastern route were open.

Within the park, the blaze was burning on nearly 11,000 acres in a remote area around Lake Eleanor, about 4 miles northwest of Hetch Hetchy reservoir, Yosemite spokeswoman Kari Cobb said.

Backcountry permits are required to hike in that area, Cobb said. The park was no longer issuing those and had contacted every person who had received a permit to go there.

Two roads into that area were closed, and occupants of a campground near the Highway 120 west entrance were relocated.

Officials Friday issued voluntary evacuation advisories for two new towns — Tuolumne City, population 1,800, and Ponderosa Hills, a community of several hundred — about 5 miles from the fire line, Forest Service spokesman Jerry Snyder said.

A mandatory evacuation order remained in effect for part of Pine Mountain Lake, a gated community a few miles from the fire.

More homes, businesses and hotels are threatened in nearby Groveland, a community of 600 about 5 miles from the fire and 25 miles from the entrance of Yosemite.

Five wildfires also were burning in Yellowstone National Park, but not nearly as vigorously since portions of the park in northwest Wyoming got half an inch or more of rain Wednesday.

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