Firefighting efforts costing taxpayers

JACKSON COUNTY, Ore. — It’s been quite the start to fire season.

With many wildfires burning across Southern Oregon and Northern California.

And the flames aren’t just burning through land, they’re also burning through cash. Tens of millions of dollars are being spent every week to put these fires out.

“It’s no different than things that we pay for that are just day to day stuff…,” said Tom Fields, a Fire Prevention Coordinator for Oregon Department of Forestry, says paying for wildfires is an expensive, complicated process.

They like to explain it like a wedding cake.

“So you’ve got your base funding as the ground part of the cake, then you’ve got extra large fire costs, and you also got what I forgot, severity funding, that’s another piece, and then you get up into the insurance policy…and then above and beyond that it could be appropriations,” he said.

So, what does that all really mean?

Essentially, Fields says there’s a 50 million dollar state limit to fight flames each year with cash coming from many places, whether it’s an insurance policy, land owners that ODF protects, or tax payer dollars.

The federal government also has their own budget. For 2018, $2.5 billion dollars was set aside for wildland fire management.

Things get even more complicated, however, when wildfires burn on land managed by multiple agencies.

“Every agency whether it’s state or federal have their own assets and tools,” said Kale Casey, who’s part of the federal incident management team assigned to the Miles Fire. He says the state and feds then have to divide-up costs.

“Whether it’s crews or aviation or helicopters or drones…or even things like bulldozers…,” Casey said.

With fires burning longer and spreading faster every year due to record heat and prolonged periods of drought, Casey says costs will inevitably continue to be high.

And it’s not just money.

“This job is becoming longer and longer and harder and harder on people and it’s hard on business, it’s hard on families, and it’s hard on relationships,” Casey said.

According to the National Interagency Coordination Center, more than a 150 million dollars has been spent on fighting fires here in our region. That is not including some of the fires that have already been put out.

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