Yosemite Wildfire: The Scorching Toll of the Blaze
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The Fiscal Times
September 4, 2013

More than $60 million in federal and state funds have been spent to date in fighting the enormous northern California wildfire that ignited two weeks ago.

The fire has already scorched nearly 223,000 acres in and around Yosemite National Park, according to local fire officials.

RELATED: SLIDE SHOW: YOSEMITE FIRE: 25 IMAGES

The Rim Fire has become the fourth largest wildfire in modern California history, says the state’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, even as the spread of flames was slowed this weekend by fire crews.

As of now, the Rim Fire has destroyed 111 structures, including 11 homes – but fortunately, it has taken no human lives.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

RELATED: CALIFORNIA WILDFIRE CONTINUES ITS FURIOUS DESTRUCTION

Take a look at some of the other salient facts and figures associated with the blaze that is consuming a vast amount of time and resources:

--The fire grew to 348 square miles on Saturday – an area larger than the cities of San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose combined, said Daniel Berlant, spokesperson for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

--The fire has so far cost California roughly $39 million.

--Some 5,000 firefighters are battling the blaze.

 

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--This number includes nearly 700 specially trained California prison inmates. "They're the work horses," firefighter specialist Jason Tosahk of the Los Angeles County Fire Department told National Geographic. Attempting to battle the blaze without this added assistance would be "scrambling, to say the least," he said. The inmates in the program, who are mostly non-violent offenders, work in 24-hour shifts.

--Using the inmates in this firefighting capacity in California, such as in the Yosemite blaze, saves taxpayers $80 million a year.

--The inmates make $1 an hour fighting fires.

--The fire has been 70 percent contained as of Monday evening, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

--Full containment of the fire is not anticipated until September 20, more than two weeks from now.

RELATED: THE COMING STORM: UNSUSTAINABLE FEDERAL DISASTER COSTS

--Yosemite National Park has lost 94 square miles to this devastating weather event – though Yosemite Valley, the site of many of the park’s well known attractions (including the El Capitan rock formation), has so far been nearly untouched.

--Two groves of Yosemite’s sequoia trees may still be in the path of the blaze.

--Roughly 4 million people visit Yosemite every year, with some 620,000 of those visitors arriving in August alone. Officials say attendance has dropped, though the diehards are still showing up.

--Six other fires are now burning in California, requiring a total deployment of more than 9,000 firefighting personnel across the state, according to Berlant of California Fire.

--Wildfires in the American West have become more common lately – it's not our imagination. Federal fire figures show that an average of 7.6 million acres were scorched each year between 2004 and 2012, up from 3.6 million acres annually in the 20 years before that, Reuters reports. Earlier this year, 19 elite firefighters were killed in an Arizona blaze in the worst wildland fire tragedy in 80 years.

Sources: Reuters, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, CNN, National Georgraphic

Managing Editor Maureen Mackey oversees scheduling and work flow and also writes and edits features and reports on a wide array of subjects. She spent more than 20 years as a senior book and features editor at Reader’s Digest.