The rising cost of battling Utah’s wildfires

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GOSHEN, Utah (ABC4 News) – Thousands of wildfires have burned through the Beehive State this year, causing evacuations, damage and costing hundreds of thousands of dollars in resources – and taxpayer dollars.

With more than 1,200 wildfire starts this season, the cost to fight these fires is upwards of $40 million, according to Jason Curry, a spokesperson with the Utah Division of Fire, Forestry, and State Lands.

“The air resources are the most expensive part. But they’re only one part of the puzzle,” Curry said. “You also have hand crews, engines, and then all the support people that are needed to feed the firefighters, take care of them.”

If large aircraft (such as a DC10) does one drop of water over a fire, Curry said it can cost roughly $50,000.

Wildfire resources are paid for by tax-payer dollars, Curry told ABC4 News Monday afternoon.

“Every time you see one of those aircraft drops or one of those crew carriers down the road, those are taxpayer dollars that are funding these suppression resources,” Curry said.

While the expense is great, Curry said their only options are to let the fire burn or fight it.

“That would be a terrible decision [to let the fire burn],” Curry said. “We would have homes destroyed, lives threatened, and the fire is not going to go away on its own – in the summer like this. So, we’ve got to put everything we got at it, especially right now when resources are running a little thin.”

Of the 1,200 plus wildfires, Curry said more than 980 are human-caused fires; a record-breaking number of unintentional starts in the state.

If a fire is human-caused, Curry said they will try to recover fire costs from those who are responsible.

“The amount they pay is going to vary quite a bit. It’s going to be based on a lot of different factors,” Curry said. “So, this year, it’s unknown. We have to get together with our cost recovery team and decide which fires are going to be recovered.”

While the number of fire starts are up, Curry said due to ‘good’ initial fire attacks, the acreage burned is lower than last year.

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