Thomas Fire Causes Firefighting Costs To Soar

The Thomas fire has not only been costly in the number of lives lost and the amount of property destroyed, it has resulted in record firefighting costs.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has so far this year spent nearly 700 million dollars battling fires, and the department hasn't even reached the midpoint of its fiscal year. The fire season in California is already the worst on record, in terms of both death and destruction.

Federal costs have been extraordinarily high as well, with in excess of 9.5 million acres destroyed by fire across the country. The U.S. Forest Service has spent $2.4 billion during its most recent fiscal year, which ended a few months ago. This figure doesn't even include what it has spent fighting the Thomas fire, which is still burning in California.

The terrible fire season has caused the state to hire more full-time firefighters, and the costs have diminished funds intended for maintenance and recreation programs. Making matters even worse is that firefighting costs in the state have been trending upward since the beginning of the millennium. Just in the last decade alone three times fires have burned more than a million California acres, and five times in the same period more than 9 million acres throughout the country have burned.

Firefighting ten years ago was 42% of the Forest Service's budget, but today it accounts for 57%. Experts estimate that by the beginning of the next decade it will account for 67% of the budget.

Cal Fire director Ken Pimlott says that not only are they seeing more big fires, but that the fire season itself has been expanding. The agency at one time kept only 10 fire stations open year-round in Southern California, but today it maintains 42 such stations. Pimlott says that the state must constantly keep up with the increase in fires with increased personnel and other expenses.

This year, firefighting costs in California have already exceeded the billions of dollars budgeted for it by more than a quarter of a billion, with more than 6 months left in the fiscal year. In 2011, the state legislature imposed a fee for homes in fire areas, to improve fire prevention. But the $150 fee was so unpopular that the legislature had to suspend it to 2031.


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