Forest Service puts pricetag on wildfires

Forest Service puts pricetag on wildfires

26 June 2011

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USA — At least $15 million in timber was lost in two large Texas fires this month, resulting in a possible $500 million blow to the region’s economy, according to an analysis released on Saturday.

The 5,280-acre Dyer Mill Fire in Grimes County destroyed at least 4.7 million cubic feet and more than $2.5 million of timber. The Bearing Fire in Trinity and Polk counties burned 20,222 acres, destroying at least $12.8 million in timber.

The valuable pine trees are used for lumber, plywood and paper products, making the timber industry the largest manufacturing sector in Trinity County and other parts of East Texas.

“For the landowners who have been personally affected, it can be devastating to them,” said Chris Edgar, a forest resource analyst with Texas Forest Service.

Statewide, 12,779 wildfires have burned nearly 3.3 million acres since November. Few areas of Texas have escaped the devastation being blamed in four deaths — including three firefighters battling separate blazes.

Texas has not seen such a severe wildfire season since 2006, when blazes charred about 2 million acres, left 12 people dead and destroyed more than 400 homes. The state’s largest fire ever started in the Panhandle in March 2006 and grew to more than 907,000 acres.

And despite recent rains, more than 70 percent of Texas remains in severe drought conditions. The Bearing and Dryer Mill fires are among the 16 major fires still burning in the state.

Dozens of homes have been destroyed and hundreds of people have been forced to evacuate. Red Cross volunteers met Saturday with some of the 47 Grimes County families who lost their homes, distributing supplies and other emergency items.

Now, long-term consequences to the timber industry must also be considered, experts said.

Much will depend on the number of trees killed, a factor that is still unknown.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty on how many of the trees are actually killed versus those that will green back up next year,” Edgar said. “It will take us a little bit of time to see which trees are coming back.”

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