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The cost of wildfire suppression in the US

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The Economic Cost of Wildfires

What is the impact of wildfires on the economy? Just how big an issue is it?

To define this, we need to examine two things. Firstly, what is the cost of fire suppression and secondly what proportion of the total economic cost does that represent.

Fortunately, the cost of fire suppression is well documented. The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) collates data on most issues related to wildfires. Suppression costs have been rising steadily for some time now. Last year, The Chief of The Forest Service, Thomas Tidwell, issued a statement showing how the cost of fire suppression has overwhelmed his budget, forcing him to curtail other work that should be undertaken. The growth of the fire fighting costs is alarming and now represents over half of his annual expenditure budget.

Wildfire Costs

USDA Report August 4, 2015: The Rising Cost of Wildfire Operations

The predicted fire suppression costs that were outlined in the report actually fell short of the actual costs reported by the NIFC , which showed a cost of $2.1Bn across all agencies.

The question is, what proportion of the total cost does this represent? In 2009, the University of San Diego carried out a study. Dr Matt Rahn looked into the relationship between wildfire suppression costs and total economic costs. This produced some surprising results. His study examined the San Diego fires of 2003. These were reasonably typical, involving three separate fires totalling the destruction of around 375,000 acres and around 3,000 buildings. The wildfire suppression costs were $43.2M. However, the total economic cost was $2.450Bn, some fifty times greater than the suppression costs.

If this study is representative of wildfires generally, the cost of wildfires to the US economy has grown to over a trillion dollars. This calculation is based on using the Cost of Wildfire Suppression data from the NIFC and multiplying it by the factor of fifty gained from the San Diego research.

Even allowing for an adjustment to cover any regional anomalies, this is a cost that cannot be allowed to continue. It is simply unsustainable. This is what Wildfire Breakthrough has been established to address.

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