Firefighting costs, 1985-2017

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wildfire suppression costs adjusted inflation

Above: Wildfire suppression costs for USFS and DOI adjusted for inflation. By Bean.

One of our regular readers, Bean, took the annual wildfire suppression costs for the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of the Interior and adjusted them for inflation using the Consumer Price Index.

“2017 was a record but there were other very expensive years”, Bean said. “Looks to me like there was an accounting methodology change from 1999 to 2000 or a big change in the way fires were fought. Pre 2000 costs are almost 2x lower than post 2000 costs. Other observation … from 2000 to 2016 there wasn’t much of a cost trend. Of course, if the USFS budget isn’t keeping pace with inflation,  things get to looking very bad as far as suppression cost as a % of their budget.”

Bean’s figures taking into account inflation can be compared to the unadjusted numbers.

Like Bean said, if the total budget for the Forest Service continues to be locked in at the same amount year after year, funding the fire organization at the 2015 10-year average is going to be very difficult. The ultimate fire funding fix would include, in addition to establishing in advance a special account for high-cost years, stop cutting (in real dollars) the total amount appropriated for the Forest Service.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Bean.
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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

2 thoughts on “Firefighting costs, 1985-2017”

  1. The reason, at least in part, for the jump in suppression costs after 2000 was the result of the National Fire Plan funding appropriated by Congress starting in FY01, which amounted to about one billion dollars. As OMB realized subsequently, more funds led to hiring more firefighters and more contractors, which were in turn used for fire suppression operations, which in turn drove suppression costs higher than in the years prior to this availability of funds. The acres burned by wildfire have also tended to increase since the National Fire Plan, which undercuts the argument made by fire agencies back in 2000 that more firefighting funds would result in a decrease in acres burned.

    1. If you track the amount of rainfall/snowfall across the West against this spending pattern, I expect there would be a high correlation, implying causality.


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