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Yosemite fire's explosive speed stuns residents, some flee homes

August 24, 2013|By Diana Marcum, Paloma Esquivel and Jill Cowan

GROVELAND, Calif. -- Dramatic images are emerging on social media -- some taken by local residents -- showing the size and destructive power of the Rim fire as it burns in and around Yosemite National Park.

The fire has burned more than 125,000 acres, destroyed nine structures and is threatening the power supply of San Francisco. Officials say 4,500 additional structures remain in its path. Residents say they were stunned by the fire's power.

"I've been up here 11 years," said Shirley Sarno, owner of the Gunn House Hotel in Sonora. "This is the worst fire that I have seen."

This photo shows the towering smoke near the town of Groveland, which is in the fire's path:

This is an image from officials at the leading edge of the flames:

— Honey Badger (@KittyCadaver) August 24, 2013
Another view of spreading flames:

Martin Molnar believes he watched the beginnings of the fire that is threatening his town.

He moved to Groveland from the Bay Area hoping to hike every trail in Yosemite. Last Saturday, he was in the northwestern corner of the park.

"I was on one side of the Tuolumne Canyon and on the other rim, there was a deep V between two peaks and a fire on each side. They joined and made a ring. People were pulling over to the side of the road to watch," said Molnar, who works in the wilderness center at Yosemite's Curry Village.

Even at that moment, he said, watching what he suspects was a double lightning strike, he had a premonition that he would have to flee his house. On Friday afternoon, with the fire line about 2½ miles from his house, he hauled out the bookcase made by his grandfather and grabbed a coat rack saved from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fires.

"I watched that ring of fire and it was 'Holy. Holy,' " he said. "I know snowpack has been at 70% of normal for two years. I know that wood is as dry as what you would buy at a lumber store. And this was on a double-sided peak that no one could get to."

Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday night extended a state of emergency to include the city and county of San Francisco because of the threat to utilities.

PHOTOS: Rim fire rages near Yosemite

The governor’s declaration said the wildfire has caused damage to electrical infrastructure serving San Francisco.

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has been forced to shut down transmission lines, and the city and county could face further damage to water and electrical assets, which could result in the interruption of those services, according to the governor's declaration.

Larry Brown, who was volunteering for the Tuolumne County Sheriff's Department, said the Rim fire was "coming in at a close second" to a rash of wildfires that scorched hundreds of thousands of acres throughout the state in 1987.

Four firefighters died battling those blazes, including one in the Stanislaus National Forest who was crushed by a falling tree. Tuolumne County was among the hardest-hit areas.


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Marcum reported from Groveland. Esquivel and Cowan reported from Los Angeles.

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