by Ben Nanamaker | August 20, 2013 7:35 pm
Raging wildfires have been a big problem for several Western states this summer — and an expensive problem for the United States.
To date, the cost of dealing with wildfires has passed $1 billion for the year, and the worst may be yet to come.
The issue has been a hot, dry summer in states where wildfires are at the greatest risk of forming. Large wildfires are currently burning in Oregon, Idaho, and Montana, and have devastated parts of Colorado as well. Currently, there are 48 wildfires that have not been contained. So far this year, 33,000 fires have burned 3.4 million acres.
The $1 billion spent so far is a little more than half of last year’s $1.9 billion spent on wildfires. The ten-year average is $1.4 billion.
Whether this year’s spending surpasses either of those figures will depend on how California’s wildfire season shakes out. Wildfires can break out in California as late as October, but the state has been relatively quiet so far.
Helping drive up costs has been the proximity of several fires to more heavily populated areas, like Colorado Springs and Sun Valley, Idaho. This comes even as sequestration cuts led to a five percent decrease in firefighting budgets.
The human toll has also been higher this year. Typically, 17 fire fighters have died a year over the past 10 years. This year, 19 firefighters were killed in just one fire — the June 30th Yarnell Hill Fire near Yarnell, Ariz. All together, 30 firefighters have died in firefighting efforts this season.
The opinions contained in this column are solely those of the writer.
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