KFOX Examines Cost Of Wildfires

KFOX Examines Cost Of Wildfires

05 May 2011

published by www.kfoxtv.com

USA — From the Organ Mountains to Ruidoso, fires have wreaked havoc across southern New Mexico. They’ve also sparked quite a bill for taxpayers.

“As the fire grows and the organization grows, the cost does too,” said Loretta Benavidez, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Land Management’s Las Cruces office.

Each fire varies on price. KFOX14 reported about the Silver City Quail Ridge fire in March. After torching about 17,000 acres, the final bill was $500,000. What really fuels the tab of a fire are resources like helicopters and any form of air support. For the Abrams fire in Las Cruces, air support was critical since terrain was too dangerous for firefighters on ground.

“The aircraft almost ran $300,000 on this particular fire,” said Benavidez.

That is quite a bit of money, but the biggest expense is people and their salaries.

“Many times when you’re on a situation like this you have to work overtime; they’re doing very long hours starting early in the morning and going very late at night,” said Benavidez.

After two weeks, 200 firefighters and 13,000 acres later, the bill for the Abrams fire is already at $1.2 million and could grow to $1.5 million. The White Fire in Ruidoso was a blaze that torched less acreage than the Abrams fire, but cost more with a bill at $2.5 million. While the numbers are overwhelming, fire officials assure taxpayers they’re being as cost-efficient as possible, while trying to be as safe as possible.

“We’re always looking at cost of fires and we’re always doing anything we possibly can to keep those cost as low as we possibly can, but there’s also an emergency associated with response to these fires,” said Benavidez.

New Mexico emergency management officials told KFOX14 that for major fires, FEMA will cover 75 percent of a wildfire cost. New Mexico has already shelled out close to $4 million for fires so far this year. In the case of the Abrams fire, BLM officials said the military will pick up most of the tab since the fire started on Army property.

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