New Report Identifies State Agency Costs in Responding to Washington Wildfires

Ashley BachBLOG

A new legislative report indicates Washington’s Department of Natural Resources and State Fire Marshal spent nearly a half billion dollars fighting wildfires between 2010 and 2016.

TheLens.News, an online offering from the Business Institute of Washington, a Bellevue-based nonpartisan nonprofit organization, covered the report by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee (JLARC) and the committee’s a Dec. 6th work session. The JLARC report indicates that the two states agencies spent $434 million from 2010-2016 responding to 6,850 fires and more than 11,000 total incidents, including false alarms and fires that were extinguished by the time fire crews arrived.

A total of 198 fires the agencies responded to during that time were out of state.  The state has a master reciprocal response agreement with federal agencies and Oregon, and has helped California with its recent spate of wildfires.  For example, this October DNR sent 65 firefighters and seven fire engines to help fight Northern California wildfires.

The $434 million spent by the agencies doesn’t begin to cover the total economic costs.  Using a 24:1 multiplier identified in coverage of the work session, the actual economic cost of the wildfires during that time would total more than $10.4 billion.

As reported by Lens:

“At the work session, DNR representative Gerry Day told panel members ‘it was certainly thorough and in-depth.’

“The minor flaws within its system are among the lesser challenges DNR faces as part of efforts to curb the state’s wildfire severity, which ultimately means less funds needed from the state operating budget and a decreased cost to taxpayers. The 2014 and 2015 wildfires combined cost the state $278 million, and wildfire experts say for every dollar spent fighting a wildfire an additional $24 is incurred due to local economic harm.”

The report also determined that “DNR’s data on fire characteristics is often unreliable, incomplete, or unused” and the agency “often lacks an efficient way to identify the costs of individual fires.”  It recommended that DNR take steps to improve the reliability and accuracy of its data collection.  Follow this link to the JLARC report.

The overall cost of fighting wildfires in the U.S. this year exceeded $2 billion according to the U.S. Forest Service.  That tabulation came in September.  At that time, wildfires had burned more than 300,000 acres in Washington.  It was also before the recent and current devastating wildfires in California.  As of Friday morning December 8, the fifth day of Southern California wildfires, at least six blazes were underway and the largest had spread over more than 200 square miles.