Oregon Fires Cost More Than Trees

The recent fires have consumed over 4,000 buildings and a million acres, totaling nearly a billion dollars in homes and belongings lost, according to a recent report from the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis, which uses insurance industry data to measure the value of burned structures and belongings.  

Unlike previous fires only affecting forests and wilderness areas, wildfires this year ravaged towns and burned nearer to cities, severely impacting large sectors of the Oregon economy, according to Josh Lehner, the author of the economic analysis report. 

The fires aren’t just burning forests and filling our lungs with smoke. They are also destroying homes, businesses, and forcing large numbers of our friends and families to evacuate or be ready to do so at any moment,” Lehner wrote. “Additionally many major north-south and east-west connections through Oregon have been and/or continue to be closed, disrupting untold supply chains.”  

Yet lost homes are only the beginning of the damages seen in recent weeks. The fires will have a financial effect in Oregon for many years, changing the timber and outdoor recreation industries, as well as Oregon’s image as an outdoor oasis.   

“Oregon’s primary comparative advantage remains its ability to draw skilled workers away from other states,” Lehner wrote. “Increased risk lowers growth prospects due to uncertainty and higher costs. If these fears are realized, our office’s long-run outlook would need to be lowered.”  

Oregon’s forests account for 2 to 3 percent of the state’s economy, according to the report. The fire has affected many aspects of the economy, but the timber industry will feel the impact in significant ways.  

“The transportation disruption due to the wildfires will also bring significant costs, although they too are temporary,” Lehner wrote. “Tourism impacts tend to be short-lived as travel rebounds fairly quickly in the months following disasters. On the other hand, the timber industry impacts may be longer lasting as the fires may reduce the potential harvest levels for years to come.”   

By Jessica Goddard