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Yosemite park fire empties casino, ranches

| Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013, 8:33 p.m.

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. “I think they're worried about the fire sparking over these hills.”

As flames leapfrogs across the vast, picturesque Sierra forests, residents in the fire's path are moving animals and children to safety.

The blaze has moved northeast away from Groveland, where smoke gave way to blue skies on Sunday. But at Tuolumne City's Black Oak Casino, 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.

Hundreds of firefighters were deployed on 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 formed tinder-dry conditions.

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.

The city's hydroelectric power generated by the system has been interrupted by the blaze, forcing the utility to spend $600,000 buying power on the open market.

Park employees are continuing their efforts to protect two groves of giant sequoias that are unique to the region by cutting brush and setting sprinklers, Medena said.

The fire has consumed more than 209 square miles of forests. Officials estimate containment at just 7 percent.

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