Thousands of firefighters were still fighting the Yosemite Rim Fire this weekend, a so-far $89 million battle. But a new force also arrived on the scene: the federal Burned Area Emergency Response team. Twice the size of normal wildfire assessment crews, the Associated Press reports, they're getting a head start on remediation work before the fall rainy season, which could cause further environmental damage, gets started.
The 50-member team is made up of "hydrologists, botanists, archeologists, biologists, geologists and soil scientists from the U.S. Forest Service, Yosemite National Park, the Natural Resource Conservation and the U.S. Geological Survey." Of special concern is the possibility of erosion into the Hetch Hetchy reservoir, which supplies San Francisco's "famously pure" drinking water. They hope to begin addressing that and other hazards within the next two weeks:
"We're looking to evaluate what the potential is for flooding across the burned area," said Alan Gallegos, a team member and geologist with the Sierra National Forest. "We evaluate the potential for hazard and look at what's at risk -- life, property, cultural resources, species habitat. Then we come up with a list of treatments."
In key areas with a high potential for erosion ecologists can dig ditches to divert water, plant native trees and grasses, and spray costly hydro-mulch across steep canyon walls in the most critical places.
Officials say repairing the environmental damage will cost tens of millions of dollars. The National Park Service has launched a restoration fund "to help restore trails, facilities and wildlife habitat destroyed by fire in Yosemite."