State wildfire season average but costly in 2013

State wildfire season average but costly in 2013

24 November 2013

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USA — In 2013, just over 140,000 acres in the state burned in wildfires, slightly below the decade average, but at almost twice the price in terms of suppression costs.

This year, the vast majority of the burned lands — 126,000 acres — were under Department of Natural Resources jurisdiction. The state reports that 292 structures were destroyed on those acres, but that firefighting efforts saved more than 55,000 homes.

The estimated price tag for efforts to fight large wildfires across the state was about $48 million, according to the Northwest Coordination Center, which coordinates logistics for fire-fighting efforts across agencies. Official numbers will be available early next year.

Nationally, fire suppression costs have risen with increased development along forest edges — an area known as the urban-wildland interface. Washington is no exception, with about 200,000 homes in this high risk area, according to a 2009 study.

About 53 percent of all the homes in Kittitas County are in high or extremely high wildfire risk areas, according to a recent analysis by an insurance company, Verisk Insurance Solutions. The danger is similarly high for other homeowners who live along the fire-prone forests of the Eastern Cascades.

The Department of Natural Resources considers a home saved by firefighting efforts if a crew had to build a fire line to stop the flames from advancing toward those homes, according to spokeswoman Janet Pearce.

The vast majority of the structures destroyed in fires this year were not homes. Only six residences were lost in large fires and no data was available for fires under 100 acres.

This season’s $48 million spent on firefighing was certainly a lot, but in 2012, suppression efforts for four fires in Central Washington cost $67.5 million. The average cost of firefighting, from 2002-12 was $26 million, according to a Department of Ecology report. Those figures don’t include the costs of lost property.

This year, about 1,400 wildfires started in the state and most of them never got big enough to make the news. That’s only slightly more fires than 2012, but the footprint is far smaller than the 259,000 acres that burned in 2012. This year’s fire season was pretty close to the 10-year average of 164,000 acres burned.

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