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Yosemite fire burns through money set aside by state

FiresRim FireWildfiresYosemite National ParkFEMABarack Obama

The cost of fighting the massive Rim fire — which on Tuesday became the seventh-largest wildfire in California’s recorded history — has topped a reported $27 million.

That means the fire, which on Tuesday grew to roughly 280 square miles, has burned through 15% of the $172 million the California Legislature set aside for the wildfire season.

And with the Rim fire just 20% contained, the $27-million price tag reported by the San Jose Mercury News was sure to go higher.

More than 3,700 personnel had been assigned to fight the blaze, along with six air tankers and more than a dozen water-dropping helicopters, according to Dick Fleishman, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service.

It has destroyed at least 23 structures, and threatens two groves of giant sequoias and historical structures in the famed park. About 25 miles away, however, the tourist magnet of Yosemite Valley remained safe.

But there are other costs.

The fire brought down two hydroelectric power stations that serve San Francisco customers. One has been fixed.  

There has been no interruption in power or water to utility customers in San Francisco and around the Bay Area, but supplemental power has cost about $600,000 since the two power stations were deenergized Aug. 17, the day the Rim fire started.

Transmission lines from the stations also still need to be checked and cleaned of soot and ash before they and the stations are reenergized.

The California Department of Finance said this week that the state has spent more than $44 million fighting fires since the fiscal year, the Sacramento Bee reported.

Still, the state budget includes a $1.1-billion reserve that can be tapped if costs exceed what’s been set aside.

But California won’t have to bear the costs alone.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency on Monday agreed to reimburse the state up to 75% of eligible firefighting costs under a grant for "managing, mitigating and controlling the fire.” And Gov. Jerry said President Obama had called him to express support and offer assistance.

According to firefighters, the Rim fire is burning hotter and faster than any in modern Sierra Nevada history. Officials say it is the California wildfire they have warned about for years, as modern firefighting techniques have snuffed out forest fires, allowing fuel to build up on the mountain floor.

"This is it. This is the big one," Yosemite Fire Chief Kelly Martin said.

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jason.wells@latimes.com

Twitter: @jasonbretwells / Facebook / Google+

samantha.schaefer@latimes.com

Twitter: @Sam_Schaefer


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