WILDFIRES: Fiscal firestorm sees costs in the hundreds of millions

WILDFIRES: Fiscal firestorm sees costs in the hundreds of millions

11 October 2015

published by www.pe.com

USA–  Fire is costing us a fortune.

Fueled by an extended drought and record heat, wildfires have scorched millions of acres across the state, the West and the nation. Fire authorities are scrambling – and spending – in response:

• Three months into the fiscal year, Cal Fire has spent $354 million of its annual $392 million firefighting budget.

• The U.S. Forest Service, caretaker of much of the nation’s cherished wildlands, has been forced to spend more than half of its budget just to fight fires this year.

• For the Lake fire alone, which leveled much of the alpine San Gorgonio Wilderness in June, the preliminary bill was $16.2 million.

It’s not just about suiting up firefighters and fueling up choppers. Fighting fires is deceptively expensive – and deeply complicated. During the North fire in July, it cost nearly $150,000 just to feed fire crews – for a single day. Even a daily bill for clerical goods – paper, ink, pens, maps – can top $5,000.

Bills quickly run into the millions because of the enormous logistics of organizing the firefight, the massive machinery deployed both on the ground and in the air, and the huge amounts of supplies necessary to sustain an army of thirsty, hungry and exhausted firefighters.

With the Santa Ana-whipped autumn fire season at hand – when experts say fires are 10 times more costly – there’s no letup on the horizon.


At the height of the Lake fire, hundreds of exhausted firefighters refueled on breakfasts of huevos rancheros, green chili potatoes, pancakes, bacon, grits and fresh fruit before going out to battle menacing flames another day.

On their way out, they grabbed sack lunches of turkey-and-cheese sandwiches, pasta, chocolate chip cookies, beef jerky, cheddar cheese crackers, string cheese and apples.

In camp, crews hoisted bottles of water off a truck and stacked them next to pallets of Gatorade. And cooks prepared 2,100 pounds of barbecued ribs for dinner.

It’s a massive undertaking to feed the people who make war on big-time blazes like the one that raged for weeks this past summer in the local mountains, and at one point it was assaulted by an army of nearly 2,000 firefighters.

In a remote place like the San Bernardino National Forest, the logistics of managing such an operation go far beyond providing food. There is a need for radio communications, for electric power, for fuel for fire engines and for fixing them when something breaks. And, of course, the firefighters need places to shower and rest.

“It’s incredibly involved,” Kristen Allison, a U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman, said recently. “It’s kind of like building your own little city.”

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