Oregon Home Building, Higher Temperatures Drive Price Tag Ever Higher

This Headwaters Economics study analyzes the impact of housing and climate on the costs of fighting forest fires in National Forests of Oregon.

This digest summarizes recent research on how growing residential development in Oregon has led to increases in fire suppression costs. The research focused on 33 wildland fires during 2006-2010. The full report is entitled “How much do homes contribute to wildfire suppression costs?” (3.8M PDF). (Also see these report slides.)

Report Highlights

  1. Rising average summer temperatures are strongly associated with an increase in the number of wildfires. In Oregon, an increase in average summer temperature of 1°F is associated with an increase of 420 wildfires. This is a large effect given that, on average, 1,800 wildfires burn in Oregon per year.
  2. Based on data for 19 Oregon counties, home construction in the WUI was most rapid from 1977-1980, when an average of 529 WUI homes were built per year. The next highest rate occurred in 2006, just prior to the recession, when 418 WUI homes were built.

Homes Built Per Year in the Oregon WUI

Chart: Homes Built Per Year in the Oregon WUI

  1. Of the 33 Oregon wildfires studied, the average cost to protect a home within 6 miles of the fire was $56,614, but ranged significantly, in some fires costing more than $200,000 per home. The estimated cost related to housing for the 33 study fires ranged from none to 42 percent, and averaged 17 percent. This added up to almost $42 million spent to protect homes (out of a total firefighting bill of more than $250 million).
  2. Building new homes in otherwise undeveloped areas has the greatest potential to increase firefighting costs. Conversely, lower firefighting costs are associated with individual homes in densely developed areas. This is likely because when large numbers of homes are present, fire managers are already investing all available resources to stop the fire. For example, using the average daily firefighting cost within our sample ($700,911), the model predicts an increase in suppression costs of $31,545 if two homes instead of one were within 6 miles of the wildfire. By comparison, the model predicts an increase of only $319 if 100 homes instead of 99 were within 6 miles of the wildfire.

Policy Implications

  • Keeping new housing within denser residential areas would reduce future firefighting costs by millions of dollars. Leaving land undeveloped saves the most taxpayer dollars.
  • Today federal and state taxpayers pay a large portion of the cost of wildfires. If costs instead were borne in part by those who build at-risk homes, or by local governments who permit them, it would help pay for rising costs and may discourage new home development in high risk areas.

Map: Oregon wildfires

Summary data per fire for each of the 33 Oregon wildfires studied
Fire Cumulative Cost Year Agency Firefighting Days Avg Size of Fire (sq.km.) Avg Homes within 6 mi Estimated % of Cost Related to Housing Estimated Cost Related to Housing Avg Cost per Home within 6 mi of the Fire
Ball Point $3,075,788 2007 USFS 17 5 427 32% $974,995 $2,282
Big Sheep Ridge $1,217,673 2009 USFS 10 13 141 25% $307,531 $2,176
Black Butte II $3,080,983 2009 USFS 7 3 937 36% $1,123,770 $1,199
Blister $5,726,503 2006 USFS 22 2 1 3% $183,227 $183,227
Boze $7,019,985 2009 USFS 22 23 0 0% $24,957 $224,614
Bridge Creek $4,410,206 2008 USFS 11 19 131 25% $1,094,958 $8,377
Calamity Complex $3,652,755 2007 USFS 14 8 22 15% $560,979 $25,118
Canal Creek $4,735,060 2009 USFS 11 1 0 0% $0 na
Cougar Creek $2,544,887 2009 USFS 10 3 593 34% $855,357 $1,444
Cougar Ridge $1,657,848 2009 USFS 20 1 1 3% $53,045 $53,045
Egley Complex $16,296,760 2007 USFS 19 294 64 18% $2,970,854 $46,347
Elkhorn Complex $3,985,253 2006 USFS 15 4 404 31% $1,249,754 $3,095
Gnarl Ridge $15,047,477 2008 USFS 28 11 130 25% $3,727,722 $28,738
GW Fire $7,917,759 2007 USFS 23 26 700 34% $2,691,478 $3,845
Ironside $1,667,362 2007 BLM 9 1 25 16% $266,045 $10,642
Kitson $4,302,039 2008 USFS 13 3 44 19% $812,339 $18,462
Lake George $12,367,001 2006 USFS 34 13 16 12% $1,503,077 $92,025
Lonesome Complex $18,411,841 2008 USFS 55 41 3 3% $515,770 $176,448
Monument Complex $11,634,250 2007 USFS 22 167 144 25% $2,881,029 $20,007
Mt. Hood Complex $8,514,319 2006 USFS 25 5 14 13% $1,107,921 $80,414
North Fork Complex 08 $9,274,059 2008 USFS 24 2 9 7% $663,799 $73,755
North Fork Complex 09 $5,250,859 2009 USFS 59 14 8 10% $545,100 $69,885
Oak Flat $18,738,968 2010 USFS 27 17 17 14% $2,579,344 $153,991
Rattle $21,057,784 2008 USFS 37 50 18 14% $3,014,458 $167,470
Rooster Rock $5,609,299 2010 USFS 9 19 2249 42% $2,356,225 $1,048
Shake Table Complex $15,264,142 2006 USFS 24 42 65 19% $2,932,932 $45,023
Silvies River $2,531,835 2008 BLM 8 13 13 13% $317,572 $25,406
Spear Spring $1,073,010 2007 USFS 6 2 7 10% $106,328 $15,190
Trout Meadows $6,569,023 2007 USFS 23 14 1 3% $210,185 $210,185
Twin Lakes Complex $4,538,513 2006 USFS 17 35 206 27% $1,242,856 $6,033
Ukiah Complex $4,356,664 2007 USFS 11 14 126 24% $1,042,398 $8,306
Williams Creek Fire $14,630,640 2009 USFS 21 21 60 20% $2,937,497 $49,017
Wizard $3,994,788 2008 USFS 12 5 232 28% $1,122,754 $4,839
Total: $250,155,334 $41,976,256
Average estimated cost related to housing for the 33 study fires: 17% (ranged from 0% to 42%)
Average estimated cost per home within 6 mi. for the 33 study fires: $56,614 (ranged from $1,048 to $224,614)