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Guiberson Fire costs state approx. $6 mil

September 25, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Firefighters are making progress on the Guiberson Fire in Ventura County, bringing containment to 95 percent by Saturday morning.The winds have died down, which is helping the effort to put out the 17,500-acre blaze. The fire's full containment is expected Saturday.

The exact cause of the fire has not yet been determined.

Authorities believe the fire began on a goat farm, and there was speculation that it started from spontaneous combustion in a pile of manure or a vegetation pile.

The owner of the goat farm believes it was an arson fire.

"In the last month, we've had at least three arson fires, and they've been very unnerving," said ranch owner Greg Bowman.

Steve Kaufman, spokesman for the Ventura County Fire Department, said officials are still investigating the cause.

The Guiberson Fire began late Tuesday morning, but authorities said a quick response in the air and on the ground helped them achieve 40 percent containment in less than 48 hours.

At the command post in Moorpark, it was a bit of a ghost town Friday. A lot of the fire crews have returned to their respective fire stations. Fire crews were "mopping up" Friday.

With fire after fire burning in Southern California, many are wondering how California is paying for it.

With firefighting resources coming from all over the Southland, and with a massive air attack, including the $5,000 per hour DC-10, fighting the three-day-old Guiberson Fire comes with an expensive price tag.

"The cost today for the Guiberson Fire right now, we're at about $6 million," said Mike Mohler, Cal Fire. "We're hoping to transition back to the county of Ventura by Monday of this next coming week. Those costs will increase because we still have a few days to clean this up."

"At the peak of the fire we had about 2,600 firefighters here at this fire, and we're in the process of starting to release some of that equipment back to their home units," said Steve Kaufman, Ventura County Fire Dept.

This year California lawmakers have budgeted roughly $182 million to fight fires. In a state prone to burn, the state has already burned through nearly $140 million of that money fighting several fires. Now, the Santa Ana winds are really starting to kick in, and fire season is getting into full swing. The big question is: Will there be enough money to fight fires?

"We are in difficult economic times," said Mohler. "Fighting fires is a very costly business. Again, we try to be as fiscally responsible when we do fight these fires, but we have to pull money from different areas to fight the fires. We just can't let them burn."

Last year, the state budgeted a mere $69 million to battle wildfires, but that wasn't nearly enough. The firefighting price tag ended up coming in at a bloated $460 million.

"We're in year-round fire season," said Mohler. "What happens when we have large fires like this, the governor will declare a state of emergency for that county or for that area if it's state responsibility for the area, which frees up different funds."

Fire officials say, basically, in the case of a natural disaster -- fire, earthquake -- if the state is out of money, other resources like the federal government will step in to make sure the state has what it needs to do the job.

The Guiberson Fire is nothing compared to the mammoth Station Fire, which started about a month ago and is about 98 percent contained. The Station Fire burned up about 250 square miles of the Angeles National Forest, at a price tag of more than $88 million. Cal Fire officials say that because it happened in the Angeles National Forest, it's a federal fire, so the federal government is picking up the bulk of that tab.

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