Soberanes Fire Is Now the Costliest to Fight in U.S. History

The Soberanes Fire cost $206.7 million to fight as of Sept. 20, 2016. (U.S. Forest Service/Flickr)

A wildfire that's been burning for nearly two months in Monterey County east of the Big Sur coast has surpassed $200 million in firefighting costs, becoming the costliest to fight in U.S. history, according to data released Monday.

As of Sept. 20, the Soberanes Fire has cost $208.4 million to fight, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. And with the blaze only 67 percent contained, there could be weeks left before the firefight is done.

The cost of fighting the massive blaze is now well past the previous high of $165 million established by the 2002 Biscuit Fire that burned in California and Oregon.

The Soberanes Fire figure does not include actual damages done by the fire such as destroyed homes -- it reflects only the costs of extinguishing and containing it. It's also not adjusted for inflation, which would put the Biscuit Fire and others ahead of it.

The cost is mostly attributable to the long duration of the fire and the need to pay thousands of firefighters for their daily work, the U.S. Forest Service said. The daily costs got as high as $8 million at the fire's peak, though they've settled at closer to $2 million as the blaze has calmed.

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The fire burning in the Los Padres National Forest wrought havoc on the summer tourist season in the area after it broke out because of an illegal, abandoned campfire on July 22.

The wildfire has also exacted a human toll. A bulldozer driver was killed after being ejected from his machine as it rolled down a steep slope the night of July 26. More recently, another driver was seriously injured when his large water tender vehicle rolled over multiple times down an embankment. Both workers were employed by private contractors, and state regulators are investigating both incidents.

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