Oregon Fire Bills Will Cut into General Fund: Yeah… This Is Gonna Cost More Than They Thought

Oregon has spent at least $111 million fighting forest fires this year, the state Department of Forestry estimates.

That’s about $10 million more than it has available from all sources, ODF spokesman Rod Nichols said.

“We’ll likely have to approach the Legislature for at least that much,” Nichols said.

And fire season could continue through September, he said.

ODF is responsible for protecting 16 million acres of public and private forestland in Oregon.

fireThis year, 988 fires have burned 107,124 acres on those lands. Lightning was responsible for 43 percent of those fires. The rest were caused by people.

Other agencies, such as the U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management, fund the cost of fighting fires on their lands in Oregon.

Because the agencies cooperate on many fires, it will take several months to complete reimbursements and calculate the exact cost of this year’s fires, Nichols said.

And the Federal Emergency Management Agency will reimburse the state about $43 million for fighting fires that endangered communities or structures, Nichols said, although that figure still is in flux.

This clearly will be the most expensive fire season since 2002, when the Biscuit Fire burned nearly half a million acres in the Siskiyou National Forest, Nichols said.

“Below-average snowpack, early snowmelt and below-average spring precipitation in many parts of the state set the stage,” he said. “Then major dry-lightning events provided the trigger for several fire complexes and large single fires.”

Nationally, it has been an expensive fire season as well. The Forest Service has spent $967 million on fire suppression this year. The Obama administration estimates that the Forest Service will spend about $1.36 billion this year to fight fires and the Interior Department will spend $445 million.

No new fires 10 acres or larger were reported on ODF-protected lands during the Labor Day weekend.

Oregon law requires firefighting costs in excess of resources come out of the state general fund. ODF will report on those costs to the Interim Joint Committee on Ways & Means in November.

Fire Costs

Here are Oregon’s estimated firefighting costs to date:

$51,762,004: Douglas Complex/Farmer Fire, two miles north of Glendale. The 48,679-acre fire is 95 percent contained

$33,971,602: Big Windy Complex, 25 miles northwest of Grants Pass. The 24,253-acre fire is 87 percent contained

$13,465,398: Government Flats Complex, 10 miles southwest of The Dalles. The 11,434-acre, lightning-caused fire is 90 percent contained

$8,008,140: Brimstone Fire, 7 miles northwest of Merlin

$2,083,836: Box Springs, 25 miles northeast of Prineville

$1,344,540: Grouse Mountain Fire, one mile north of John Day

$844,087: Pacifica Fire, near southwest of Medford

$96,648: ODF Salem support team

By Tracy Loew, Statesman Journal
See more at www.StatesmanJournal.com, an OPB NW Media Partnership member.