TUOLUMNE CITY, California, September 10, 2013 (ENS) – The cost for battling a three-week old wildfire both within and outside Yosemite National Park has reached $100.4 million. Although fire officials say the Rim Fire is 80 percent contained, the fire has burned 254,000 acres, or 398 square miles, and is still intensifing within the containment area.
Hot and extremely dry conditions combined with shifting winds and low humidity continue to plague firefighters. U.S. Forest Service officials say more than 3,500 personnel continue to patrol, mop-up, and monitor all areas of the fire in addition to the developed areas inside the fire perimeter and those adjacent to it.
Pockets of vegetation burning within the perimeter are creating the potential for spot fires outside the containment lines. Some 1,285 structures remain threatened in areas near the perimeter to the north, south, and southeast of the fire.
The National Fire Incident Information System confirmed in a statement Thursday that the Rim Fire began on August 17 after a hunter allowed an illegal fire to escape.
Investigators from the U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement and the Tuolumne County District Attorney’s Office are withholding the hunter’s name pending further investigation.
No arrests have been made at this time, and there are no indications that the hunter was involved with illegal marijuana cultivation.
There are currently no mandatory or advisory evacuation orders effective in Mariposa or Tuolumne Counties.
California State Route 120 is now open from Groveland to Yosemite Valley, but a 14-mile stretch of 120 inside the park is still closed from Crane Flat to White Wolf.
Pockets of unburned vegetation around Thompson Peak and at the south edge of the fire’s perimeter continue to burn. Fire crews successfully contained 15 spot fires along the Tioga Road today and the plan is to set a fire in a three quarter mile section of land within the park to contain an additional spot fire.
Firefighters often have to set controlled burns in areas of dry tinder in order to keep another nearby fire from jumping to the dry tinder and growing expotentially. It is basically sacrificing a small area of land so that the lands beyond it can be saved.
The containment has allowed scientists to enter the fire area to study the fire remains and determine what areas are most vulnerable to mud slides once the rainy season begins.
“About five square miles of the burned area is in the watershed of the municipal reservoir serving 2.8 million people – the only one in a national park. That’s five square miles of watershed with very steep slopes,” Alex Janicki, the Stanislaus National Forest BAER response coordinator, told reporters. “We are going to need some engineering to protect them.”
The water in the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir remains clear despite falling ash, and Janicki says the city water utility has a six month supply in reservoirs closer to the Bay Area.
On the weekend, thick smoke from the Rim Fire drifted the Yosemite Valley, a popular destination for visitors to Yosemite National Park.
Fire officials said today that the extremely dry dry fuels and potential for long-range spotting remain significant concerns for the fire to advance or spot beyond control lines.