DNR combined aggressive response, better cost management to reduce state’s wildfire-fighting spending in 2009

DNR combined aggressive response, better cost management to reduce state’s wildfire-fighting spending in 2009

17 December 2009

published by www.dnr.wa.gov


Department’s supplemental budget request for 2009 fire suppression is more than 20 percent lower than 10-year average despite fighting more fires

An aggressive response to wildfire outbreaks in 2009 helped the Washington State Department of Natural Resources respond to more fires while reducing annual fire-fighting costs by about 20 percent compared to a 10-year average. Despite responding to a much higher-than-average number of fires and historically dangerous fire conditions on both sides of the Cascades, the Department managed to avoid about $5.2 million dollars in spending by improving firefighting effectiveness and cost efficiency. It also substantially reduced the number of acres burned this year.

“The improved response to fire outbreaks in 2009 is a credit to DNR crews, our partners and the public who pulled together in fire prevention and response during one of the more dangerous fire seasons of recent years,” said Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark. “Our approach is to focus on initial attack to control wildfires before they turn into larger, more costly incidents.”

In 2009, DNR staff fought 1,035 fires—15 percent more than the average of recent years—yet 45 percent fewer acres (16,785) were burned on lands within the Department’s jurisdiction. An additional measure of success in 2009 was that 96.4 percent of the fires DNR crews fought were kept to less than 10 acres in size, beating the Department’s performance goal of 93 percent.

DNR’s firefighting cost reduction steps included staging more equipment in Eastern Washington, using local labor and resources when reasonable to save on staff travel time, making bulk purchases of bottled water and other supplies needed by fire-line crews, and replacing some private fire crews with inmate crews.

“We saved money this season by operating more effectively against wildfire, but the most important measure of all is that no serious injuries were reported and lives were lost to wildfire in 2009,” said Goldmark.

DNR has requested an additional $12 million from the 2010 Legislature for its 2009 firefighting costs—about 23 percent lower than the average inflation-adjusted supplemental budget requests the agency has made for fire suppression over the past 10 years.    

DNR firefighting costs for 2009 will be part of its 2010
(far right bar) supplemental state general fund budget request.

2009 fire season by the numbers

Here are highlights of the 2009 fire season in Washington:

  • Number of fires in DNR jurisdiction: 1,035 fires (15 percent above the 10-year average).
  • Total number of fire responses (including false alarms and assistance to other agencies): 1,809 responses.
  • Acres burned in DNR jurisdiction: 16,785 acres (45 percent lower than 10-year average).
  • Percentage of fires DNR kept to less than 10: 96.4 percent  (exceeding DNR’s performance goal of 93 percent).
  • Costs avoided by aggressive management of the eight Type-2 fires (second most complex) on DNR-protected lands: $1.8 million.
  • Costs avoided by aggressive management of the fifteen Type-3 fires (moderate complexity) on DNR-protected lands: $2.4 million.
  • DNR fire suppression costs: $27 million projected in the current fiscal year (FY 2010) due to avoiding an estimated $5.2 million in spending on Type-2 and -3 fires.
  • Highest fire danger ever recorded in western Washington: 104 degrees in Olympia on July 29, 2009.
  • Arson fires: Investigated over 35 suspected arson fires
  • Acres of forestland with high levels of fire-susceptible (dead, dying or diseased) trees: 1.73 million (up from 1.36 million in 2008).
  • Number of firefighters receiving refresher safety training in 2009: 706 firefighters.
  • Number of volunteer fire district firefighters trained through the Ready Reserve Program: 350 volunteers (who responded to 260 fires on DNR jurisdiction).

DNR’s wildfire mission
Administered by Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark, DNR is responsible for preventing and fighting wildfires on 12.7 million acres of private, state and tribal-owned forestlands in Washington. DNR is the state’s largest on-call fire department. During fire season, this includes more than 700 DNR employees who have other permanent jobs with the agency and about 375 seasonal workers. DNR also participates in Washington’s coordinated interagency approach to firefighting.

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