On the Yosemite Fires, Spending, and Public Image Issues

Photo by Capt Darin Overstreet. Some rights reserved.

Photo by Capt Darin Overstreet. Some rights reserved.

Wildfires are a strange and sad and often mesmerizingly beautiful phenomenon. Every summer, somewhere in the American south, west, or Southwest, hundreds of Americans band together to fight against one of nature’s most potent defense mechanisms (or call them what you will). This summer, over the last week especially, the nation has watched (mostly through convenient web-based slideshows) as the seventh largest fire in California history raged across the Stanislaus National Forest and into the treasured and revered Yosemite National Park and Hetch Hetchy valley, covering a total of over 280 square miles so far. More than 3,700 individuals have been summoned to help contain the fire with more than a dozen water dropping helicopters at their disposal, but only 20% of the fire has been contained.

Despite the size, the park remains open and naturalists remain cautiously optimistic that the fire will be contained without any dire, lasting consequences to the area. The park remains open for tourism, as the fire continues to blaze in the somewhat remote northwestern corner of the park, a (somewhat) safe 20 miles from the Yosemite Valley, the heart of the park-as-tourist destination.

But some good info has also been dished out on the financial toll the fires will take on the already-tight California state budget, as well as on the behind-the-scenes strategies being employed in how the containment efforts are being handled. The LA Times takes a worthwhile look at how, having already used 15% of the $172 million set aside for wildfires, the state plans to handle the financial end of things if this fire continues to grow. The state budget includes a $1.1 billion reserve for emergencies, and FEMA has agreed to reimburse the state for up to 75% of “eligible firefighting costs,” but the point remains that these efforts always involve a price tag, and for a state that has been painted as “in trouble” for some time now, I’m sure this is not welcome news.

Meanwhile, NatGeo published some good reporting on the crafty PR strategies being employed. Specifically, how containment efforts have included placing sprinklers around two groves of giant sequoias, some of the parks most popular attractions, when the reality is that these older, larger trees have a much better chance of surviving the blaze than younger, weaker trees. However, officials worry that the fires could cause cosmetic damage to the giant sequoias that would make them “ugly” to the public and could hurt tourism in the immediate future.

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