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August 26, 2013

Yosemite fire 'poses every challenge there can be'

GROVELAND, Calif. — At Ike Bunney’s dude ranch near the Sierra community of Tuolumne City, all creatures have been evacuated as firefighters brace for an intense battle to keep a wildfire raging north of Yosemite National Park out of mountain communities.

“We’ve already evacuated the horses,” said Bunney, who was keeping an eye on his Slide Mountain Guest Ranch on Sunday. “I think they’re worried about the fire sparking over these hills.”

As fire leapfrogs across the vast, picturesque Sierra forests, moving from one treetop to the next, residents in the fire’s path are moving animals and children to safety.

The fire has moved northeast away from Groveland, where smoke gave away to blue skies Sunday. But at Tuolumne City’s Black Oak Casino in Tuolumne City, the slot machines were quiet as emergency workers took over nearly all of the resort’s 148 hotel rooms.

“The casino is empty,” said casino employee Jessie Dean, who left her four children at relatives’ homes in the Central Valley. “Technically, the casino is open, but there’s nobody there.”

Hundreds of firefighters were deployed Sunday to protect Tuolumne City and other communities in the path of the Rim Fire. Eight fire trucks and four bulldozers were deployed near Bunney’s ranch on the west side of Mount Baldy, where two years of drought have created tinder-dry conditions.

“Winds are increasing, so it’s going to be very challenging,” said Bjorn Frederickson, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service.

The fire continues burning in the remote wilderness area of Yosemite, but park spokesman Tom Medena said it’s edging closer to the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, the source of San Francisco’s famously pure drinking water.

Despite ash falling like snowflakes on the reservoir and a thick haze of smoke limiting visibility to 100 feet, the quality of the water piped to the city 150 miles away is still good, say officials with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

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