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Conservationists aim to restore land scorched by massive Rim fire

FiresRim FireYosemite National ParkConservationEnvironmental IssuesU.S. Congress

A Northern California conservationist group has launched a campaign to help restore lands near Yosemite National Park scorched by the massive Rim fire, campaign organizers announced Tuesday.

Leaders of the Tuolumne River Trust plan to meet with state lawmakers and local business leaders to gather funds to restore Tuolumne River watershed, which serves millions of Bay Area residents and was severely burned through by the blaze.

About 96% of the Rim fire is within the watershed, said Eric Wesselman, the trust’s executive director.

More than 40 miles of the river line has been burned. Rafting and commercial fishing companies are missing customers during the area’s busiest tourist season and only 5% of the cost of the fire is available for restoration, Wesselman said.

“Ultimately, no matter what Congress does, it’ll fall on the shoulder of local agencies … to see the recovery through to the end,” said Patrick Koepele, who is leading the campaign.

Volunteers will plant trees, seed the soil and repair trails and campsites, organizers said.

The Rim fire has burned 254,685 acres, or 398 square miles, the U.S. Forest Service reported Tuesday. It is the third-largest wildfire in California history.

The cost of battling the massive blaze has reached $100.4 million. It is 80% contained, the Forest Service said.

Officials have said the fire was caused by a hunter who lost control of his campfire at Jawbone Ridge, a remote section of the Stanislaus National Forest north of the Tuolumne River. The wind-driven blaze exploded to tens of thousands of acres in the days after, chewing through decades-old brush and vegetation and threatening thousands of homes.

More than 110 buildings have been destroyed, including 11 homes and three businesses. A map of the blaze Tuesday morning showed fire activity on the blaze’s southeastern edge, where it pushed toward two groves of sequoias.

Fire crews on the ground Monday hustled to contain 15 spot fires that broke out past fire lines along Tioga Road in Yosemite, the Forest Service said. 

On Monday night, crews were planning to set backfires -- intentionally igniting unburned fuel -- along a three-quarter-mile front to contain another spot fire burning in Yosemite, fire officials said.

A 14-mile stretch of California 120 inside the park remained closed Monday from Crane Flat to White Wolf.

More than 3,000 firefighters were battling the blaze. At its peak, more than 5,100 personnel were fighting the Rim fire.

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Joseph.serna@latimes.com

Twitter: @josephserna

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