(Photo: Flickr / Sergey Gabdurakhmanov)
One of California's largest wildfires on record has chased away tourists, entered Yosemite National Park and now threatens a major water supply for the San Francisco Bay Area.
As of Monday morning, the Rim Fire had still only been 15 percent contained, having scorched through 15,000 acres of the parks and rapidly speeding towards Hetchy Hetchy Reservoir and the homes and businesses of nearby Tuolumne City. In total, the fire has burned an extraordinary 150,000 acres.
Currently over 3,400 firefighters are fighting their way through 100 foot visibility, clogged with ash and smoke and battling persistent winds that continue to combust the fire, which began nearly 10 days ago, on August 17.
"It's going to take embers, it's going to take burning pine cones a quarter-mile, a half-mile -- the more wind, the further it goes," fire safety officer Sam Lobese said told CBS News. "I mean, it's problem after problem after problem."
The firefighters' problems are compounded by dry and brittle vegetation and inaccessible terrain.
The Rim Fire has also threatened to destroy Yosemite's hallmark sequoias, some of the oldest living plants on earth. In order to protect them, sprinklers have been set up and park staff have removed nearby brush that would otherwise serve as tinder.
"It's really unthinkable to lose the sequoias," Tom Medema of the National Park Service told CBS News. "We celebrate those trees and we want to protect them. They're one of the reasons people come to this place, to see them."
Meanwhile, the park and its surrounding towns, normally still bustling with tourists through Labor Day, have lost the majority of its tourists and with that, the usual funds that residents count on for the year.
Black Oak Casino General Manager Ron Patel's casino has had little traffic because the two main roads it lies off of have been cut off by the fire. According to Patel, most Saturdays he has 400 or 500 employees. Last Saturday, he had 110.
"We're operating at a loss," he told the Merced Sun Star.
In many parts, downtown strips have closed early and some small businesses have not opened at all.
Currently, meteorologists predict the temperature to stay in the mid to upper 80s through the week — with no forecasts for rain or relief.