Who pays to put out wildfires?

Local News

On the west side of Hardscrabble Canyon the Bear Fire has been hung up high on the rim rock for several days now. Because this area is so steep and rugged is is hard to work in safely. Crews constructed fireline by hand and then ran hose along the length of this line to provide water. Today they conducted a burnout operation in order to secure this section of line. Burning out in this way allows the firefighters the opportunity to build line in the best location possible and then to burn the fuel between that line and the fire. Already having firehose run along the line means they have immediate access to water if needed. | Utah Wildfire

Utah (ABC4) – The severe drought that Utah currently finds itself in has contributed to a particularly intense wildfire season and restrictions across the state.

The Bennion Creek fire, Bear Fire, and the Pack Creek fire are just a few of the wildfires burning throughout the state, leaving charred landscapes in their wake. As of Tuesday, officials estimate $7.8 million has been spent on suppressing the Pack Creek fire alone.

While water is certainly a much needed resource required to extinguish these fires, another is money. Who covers the costs needed to put out wildfires?

Ultimately, taxpayers foot the bill, Kaitlyn Webb with Utah Fire Information, tells ABC4.

However, where the fire takes place determines which agency covers the costs. If the wildfire occurs on state lands, state agencies will cover the cost, while federal agencies will pay to put out wildfires on federal lands.

“If we have a mixed fire where we’ve got federal and state land involved, then we will work closely with that partner agency and come to an agreement at the end on where those costs lines are drawn,” Webb explains.

According to Webb, money may be pulled from multiple different funds to cover extinguishing wildfires. There isn’t necessarily one place it comes from. Budgets for the agencies fluctuate year to year.

Courtesy: Geoff Liesik, BLM

“There is a lot of evaluation that goes on early in the year and then at the end of the year you’ve got to figure out your reconciliation, but at least from our perspective, a good use of funding is the prevention side of things. So working towards preventing those fires from even happening so that you don’t have as many suppression costs,” she explains. “You don’t have as much damage.”

The cost agencies spend suppressing wildfires depends on a number of factors, such as the number of fire starts, how big those starts are, where the fire is located, the mode of suppression that is used and for how long it is used.

“Last year, for example, was a very high spending year,” Webb states. “We focused on a lot of air support for a direct, aggressive attack, and we utilized air support heavily last year which is a high expense.”

This year’s fire season is busier than the 10-year trend, according to Webb. And agencies are using all different tactics to put out fires this year. The type of tactic used depends on the location of the fire, how actively it’s burning, the access that firefighters have to it, and if there are homes located nearby.

“If maybe a fire is too active for crews to safely engage, then they will pull in air support to help cool down the fire or make different access points may be a little bit safer for them to directly engage. If you have a community in front of a fire, definitely there is that ramped up response and resources trying to do point protection and make sure to keep that fire away from any values that are threatened,” Wedd says.

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