Fire assessment teams headed to blaze near Yosemite to determine needed environmental repairs

In this Friday, Aug. 30, 2013 photo provided by the U.S. Forest Service, a member of the Monterey Hotshots carries a gas can near a burn operation on the southern flank of the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park in California. The wildfire burning in and around Yosemite National Park has become the fourth-largest conflagration in California history. (AP Photo/U.S. Forest Service, Mike McMillan)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — As firefighters continue to battle a gigantic wildfire in and around Yosemite National Park, environmental scientists are already moving in looking to protect habitat and waterways ahead of the fall rainy season.

Members of the federal Burned Area Emergency Response team will begin hiking the rugged Sierra Nevada terrain this weekend to identify areas at the highest risk for erosion into streams, the Tuolumne (too-AH’-loo-mee) River and the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, which provides San Francisco’s famously pure water.

The wildfire now ranks as the third largest fire in California history, having burned 385 square miles of timber, meadows and sensitive wildlife habitat. It started Aug. 17 when a hunter’s illegal fire swept out of control.

It has cost $81 million to fight the fire, and officials say it will cost tens of millions of dollars more to repair the environmental damage.

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