Tuolumne County government and business leaders this week are beginning to tally the damage from the Rim Fire, the fourth largest in state history.
It will likely take weeks or months before firm numbers crystallize, but the toll will likely include hundreds of head of livestock lost, thousands of acres of National Forest grazing land blackened, yet uncounted stands of pine trees ruined, and hundreds of structures destroyed.
“It’s not going to be immediate, that we know what the dollar impact is,” said Daniel Richardson, a deputy Tuolumne County Administrator who has been working with the emergency services office on quantifying the damage.
The fire has burned an area of about 236,000 acres in Tuolumne and Mariposa counties, straddling the Stanislaus National Forest and Yosemite National Park.
It’s also destroyed 111 buildings, including 11 residences, three commercial buildings, and dozens of “outbuildings” — mostly tent cabins destroyed when the fire ripped through the City of Berkeley’s family camp, off Hardin Flat Road, last week.
Richardson said the county and the business community started trying to identify who was affected quickly after the fire — which was detected Aug. 17, raced out of an isolated river canyon two days later and jumped two rivers and Highway 120 in Groveland and Big Oak Flat.
The plan now is to identify what was lost in hopes of building a recovery plan that will likely include state and federal disaster relief money.
“We have the same information (the public has on what was lost). We’re trying to get to the bottom of what was really lost,” Richardson said.
Among the most directly affected are the cattle ranchers who used the now-scorched parts in the forest to graze thousands of cattle in the summer.
Ranchers have been scouring the areas around the Tuolumne River drainage trying to find and gather their beef cattle, a process that usually takes up to six weeks, Tuolumne County Farm Bureau President Dick Gaiser said Tuesday.
Gaiser said it’s still unclear what the losses will be for the ranching industry. Cattle are still being found, but he estimates that more than 100 and but less 1,000 cattle have been lost. In addition to head lost, ranchers with blackened forest allotments face increased costs for using irrigated land or feed.
“It’s hard to say what the numbers are,” Gaiser said.
The burned area includes about 17,000 acres of land and some equipment owned by Sierra Pacific Industries and smaller logging operations, according to Melinda Fleming, spokeswoman for TuCARE, a local industry group that supports logging, ranching and mining activities.
Tourism-dependent businesses like restaurants and hotels have suffered as well.
Many say the usually busy Labor Day weekend was a bust because of smoke and road closures. A stretch of Highway 120, usually a pipeline for Bay Area tourists heading to Yosemite via Groveland, remained closed through the last two weeks of summer break, and much of the corridor from Groveland to the park appears devastated.
Several businesses along the highway corridor said they had laid off workers as a result of the steep and sudden economic slowdown.
Nanci Sikes, executive director of the Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau, couldn’t venture a guess at the economic loss to businesses.
She did say the county’s roughly 50,000-person population typically doubles over a holiday weekend with visitors.
She said the Visitors Bureau is working closely with the Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority to record as much of the local business losses as they can to try and track down some relief.
Larry Cope, TCEDA executive director, said his city-county agency is using a website, www.rimfirerecovery.com, to gather and release information.
Businesses can submit reports on their losses from the fire and find out about relief or aid options like low-interest loans that are available, Cope said.
Though about 10 businesses so far have contacted his office to start the process, Cope said he won’t have a clear picture of the losses until more information is in.
“A lot of these numbers, you won’t have them for six or eight months,” he said.
The Union Democrat is now online in a Replica E-edition form and publishes Tuesday through Saturday. E-Edition or Print Plus subscribers have full access.
If you are not a current subscriber, subscribe today for immediate access. Circulation: 209-533-3614
Weekly Arts and entertainment guide for Calaveras and Tuolumne counties