By Phil Davies
“….Over the past decade, severe wildfire seasons have outnumbered the mild ones, in the nation and in the Ninth District. The cost of fighting wildfires has risen with the flames, taxing the resources of government agencies charged with putting out fires. Last year, the U.S. Forest Service alone spent over $1 billion fighting wildfires, mostly in the western part of the country.
In the district, the intensity of recent fire years and the resulting costs are most evident in fire-prone Montana. Over most of the past decade, state government incurred average annual fire suppression costs of over $20 million—just a fraction of total firefighting costs in the state. Costs peaked at $65 million in the 2007 fire season, requiring a special legislative session to cover a budget shortfall. “What we’ve seen is a really substantial escalation in the number of fire seasons where we burn a lot of acres, and a lot of those acres are threatening communities, so we tend to spend a lot of money,” said State Forester Bob Harrington….
….Headwaters Economics, a research group based in Bozeman, Mont., analyzed daily fire suppression costs for 18 large wildfires that burned in Montana during 2006 and 2007. The study found that each additional house within one mile of a wildfire was associated with a $7,900 increase in suppression costs. For conflagrations in areas with relatively dense development, about 30 percent of the cost of fighting those fires was related to structure protection. Another study of large wildfires fought by the U.S. Forest Service found that as total home values within 20 miles of a fire ignition increase, so do firefighting costs…..”