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By Miriam Raftery


September 1, 2013 (Yosemite) --The Rim Fire burning in Yosemite National Park has charred over 225,000 acres. Smoke this weekend drafted into Yosemite Valley as more than 5,000 firefighters continue to battle the blaze. Investigators have not yet determined the cause, but illegal marijuana growing operations are suspected.  The fire is 45 percent contained, but thousands of homes remain threatened and 11 homes have burned, along with the Berkeley Tuolumne Camp.  (For details, see: http://cdfdata.fire.ca.gov/pub/cdf/images/incidentfile889_1195.pdf

Cal Fire now ranks the Rim Fire as the fourth worst wildfire in California history, based on acreage burned nearly 225,000 acres.  The fire could potentially surpass the 2003 Cedar Fire, which burned over 273,000 acres and remains our state’s worst wildfire ever in sheer size. But The Rim Fire is not likely to surpass the Cedar Fire in two other measurements of its disastrous scale.  The Cedar Fire still holds the record of causing the most deaths—14, and burning the most structures – 2,820.  Moreover, the collective toll of the 2007 wildfires here was even larger.

By contrast, the next worse fire in both lives lost and structures burned was the 2007 Witch Creek Fire, which ranks 4th in the state’s history in acreage burned. 

But San Diego’s 2007 firestorms actually included seven separate fires burning at the same time.   If you combine the damage from those seven fires, the 2007 firestorms destroyed 369,000 acres – nearly a hundred thousand acres more than the Cedar Fire.  All told, those fires burned 13% of the total land mass in our county.  San Diego’s 2007 firestorms also resulted in the evacuation of a half million people—more than any disaster in U.S. history at that time. 

Ten people lost their lives in the 2007 fires here, which also injured 23 civilians and 89 firefighters.   The 2007 fires burned 1600 homes, 800 outbuildings and 253 other structures, second in damage only to the Cedar Fire. 

The state’s list of top ten worst wildfires includes a third firestorm in San Diego County—the 1970 Laguna Fire that charred over 175,000 acres, killed five people and burned 382 homes.

San Diego’s three major fires in 2003, 2007 and 1970 in fact rank as the state’s three worst fires ever in structures lost.  As for lives lost, only one other California fire has claimed more than two lives (theIiron Alps Complex fire in Trinity County in 2008.

With drought, climate change, and strained budgets impacting firefighting resources, however,  the prospect of future fires topping the records of San Diego’s destructive firestorms  remains a frightening prospect.

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