The increasing costs of wildfires

costs wildland fires
Source: National Interagency Fire Center

Beginning in 2000 the costs of suppressing wildland fires suddenly got more expensive, as you can see from the chart.

One fire this year that is still going strong has added over $208 million to the total for this year, according to the September 20 national situation report.

The Soberanes Fire on the central coast of California south of Monterey has been burning since July 22. New evacuations were ordered Monday for this fire that has blackened more than 121,000 acres of brush, grass, timber, and large quantities of poison oak. The current uncontained fire perimeter is 95 miles. Fire managers expect they will have  191 miles of fireline by the time it is over.
dollar sign
It is very difficult to determine the exact costs of suppressing large wildfires. Many months can pass before most of the bills come in, get approved, and are paid. Costs are often shared among multiple agencies, making it even more complex to come up with one figure. And if you want to compare the historical costs of individual large fires, you have to decide which formula to use while adjusting for inflation.

Not deterred by these difficulties, the Associated Press published an article yesterday reporting that the costs of suppressing the Soberanes Fire is the largest ever spent on one fire.

BIG SUR, Calif. (AP) — A wildfire burning for nearly two months on California’s scenic Big Sur coast has surpassed $200 million in firefighting costs, becoming the costliest to fight in U.S. history, according to data released Monday.

The fire has cost $206.7 million to fight so far, the National Interagency Fire Center said in a report. And with the blaze at only 67 percent containment, there could be weeks left before the firefight is done.

That puts it well past the previous high of $165 million established by a blaze that burned in California and Oregon in 2002. [From Bill: probably the Biscuit Fire.]

The figure does not include the actual damages done by the fire like destroyed homes, only the costs of extinguishing and containing it.

It also is not adjusted for inflation, which would put the 2002 fire and others ahead of it.

The cost is mostly attributable to the long duration of the fire, and the need to pay thousands of firefighters for their daily work, the U.S. Forest Service said. The daily costs got as high as $8 million at the fire’s peak, though they’ve settled at closer to $2 million as it has calmed…

The AP was a little vague about where they got their data.

But as they said, these figures only include the actual costs of suppressing the fires. Often the indirect costs can exceed the cost of putting it out. These can include temporary housing while evacuated, lost wages, rebuilding structures, declining retail sales at nearby communities, reduced tourism, lower sales tax receipts, medical treatments for breathing smoky air, and repairing the damaged land.

Water tender close call

water tender near miss
Photo from the report.

A water tender working on the Soberanes Fire south of Monterey, California last month had a very close call. While driving on a dirt road the right-rear tires slipped off the edge of the road as the soft dirt gave way. Luckily it did not continue sliding or roll down the steep slope.

A dozer and a Rapid Extraction Module responded, and after stabilizing the large truck, the dozer began to pull it out using a tow strap and for backup, a chain, both connected at the same time. As the strap stretched, some of the stress was transferred to the chain. Since the driver, who was in the truck to steer and maintain control after it was pulled out, had not yet let the clutch out, the chain quickly snapped. But they eventually extracted the truck using the tow strap.

The video below shows it being pulled out.

The Rapid Extraction Module probably didn’t anticipate they’d be assisting with THAT type of extraction. An article on Wildfire Today from September of 2015 has more information about what they normally do.

More details about this recent incident are in the Rapid Lessons Sharing report.

Progression maps for 5 currently active fires

At least five very large fires are currently active in the United States:

  • Gap in northern California,
  • Pioneer in central Idaho,
  • Maple in Yellowstone National Park,
  • Soberanes on the central coast of California, and,
  • Beaver Creek in northern Colorado and southern Wyoming.

Below we have progression maps of these fires (in that order).

We recently found out about a new website that has developed a very impressive mapping service for wildfires. It was the source of these maps. The site not only shows the locations, but in some cases for large fires it displays the perimeters — which can be animated to see the growth or progression of the fire over time. They have this information going back to 2003. It is on the EcoWest website and was created by a collaboration of the Sea to Snow company and the Bill Lance Center for the American West at Stanford University.

The perimeter data is dependant on what is made available by the agencies managing the fire, so there is not always a perimeter for every day.

You can minimize the Description box by clicking the down arrow at the top-right of the box.

Continue reading “Progression maps for 5 currently active fires”

Pioneer Fire in Idaho is one of 5 fires in US with over 1,000 firefighters assigned

The Pioneer Fire was very active Monday and Tuesday.

Above: Pioneer Fire. Uncredited/undated InciWeb photo.

On Tuesday the Pioneer Fire in central Idaho continued its march to the north, adding another 16,000 acres to bring the total to over 157,000 acres. Burning 32 miles northeast of Boise and 23 miles west of Stanley, it has been creating huge convection columns rising 30,000 feet into the atmosphere for the last two days.

Map Pioneer Fire
Map of the Pioneer Fire at 8 p.m. MDT August 30, 2016.

Most of the growth on Tuesday was on the north side while it was pushed by an 8 to 12 mph wind gusting at 18 to 24 that was variable, but mostly out of the south. As we write this at 2:50 p.m. on Wednesday, the wind so far today has been out of the west and northwest at 4 to 10 mph with gusts of 16 to 24. The smoke being pushed to the east will probably make the air quality rather unpleasant in Stanley, due east of the fire.

The fire was very active late into Tuesday night due to the low relative humidity which ranged from 24 to 30 percent during the night at the White Hawk weather station at 8,344 feet elevation. At 2:33 p.m on Wednesday it was 66 degrees with 21 percent humidity.

Map Pioneer Fire
Map of the Pioneer Fire August 30, 2016. The black line is completed fireline. The red is uncontrolled fire edge.

The Pioneer Fire is one of five currently active fires in the United States that are staffed by more than 1,000 personnel.

Fire NameStatePersonnelAcresCost to date, millions
SoberanesCA1,20293,714170
ChimneyCA2,98146,34470
CedarCA2,03129,32245
PioneerID1,105157,00074
GapCA1,12012,8295

As of Tuesday evening the total number of resources assigned to fires in the US included 444 hand crews, 1,060 engines, 147 helicopters, and 19,064 personnel. When the number of crews approaches 500 and there are almost 20,000 personnel committed, you know things are getting busy.

Updates on three California fires, Soberanes, Chimney, and Rey

Above: A firing operation on the Soberanes Fire by the Arroyo Grande Hotshots. Inciweb photo.

Soberanes Fire

This fire has been eating through the brush, grass, timber, and poison oak in the coastal mountains south of Monterey since July 22. In that time it has spread mostly to the south blackening over 91,000 acres.

Map Soberanes Fire
Map of the Soberanes Fire. The red line was the perimeter at 11 p.m. PDT Aug. 25. The white line was the perimeter at 1 a.m. PDT Aug. 7. Click to enlarge.

The only large heat sources a satellite 200 miles overhead was able to detect in the last 24 hours were near the perimeter on the south and southeast sides. The Soberanes Fire is being fought by 1,4913 personnel including 21 hand crews; 65 engines; 12 helicopters; 21 dozers; and 14 water tenders.

The fire was caused by an illegal, unattended campfire on the Soberanes Canyon trail in the Garrapata State Park. The suppression costs to date are $160 million.

Poison oak is very prevalent in the area and some firefighters are saying it is the worst they have even seen. Five hundred have reported to the fire’s medical units for poison oak related ailments, with 200 cases in the past three days.

Rey Fire

The Rey Fire north of Santa Barbara has been working its way east over the last several days but that growth has slowed as firefighters make progress by constructing direct firelines on the fire’s edge and completing contingency lines out ahead of the fire.

Map Rey Fire
Map of the Rey Fire. The red line was the perimeter at 10 p.m. PDT Aug. 25. The white line was the perimeter at 10 p.m. PDT Aug. 23. Click to enlarge.

The Rey Fire typically slows to a crawl late at night when the marine layer moves in, then the activity increases in the afternoon. The incident management team is calling it 33,006 acres. Approximately 1,976 personnel are assigned to the fire, including 57 hand crews, 99 engines, and 18 helicopters.

Chimney Fire

The Chimney Fire near the central California coast has continued to spread to the north over the last few days through very rough and remote country east of the Hearst Castle.

Map Chimney Fire
Map of the Chimney Fire. The red line was the perimeter at 9 p.m. PDT Aug. 25. The white line was the perimeter at 10 p.m. PDT Aug. 23. Click to enlarge.

CAL FIRE reports that 49 residences and 21 other structures have been destroyed, while 1,898 remain threatened. Some evacuation orders have been lifted but others are still in place.

The 45,000-acre Chimney Fire is being fought by 4,028 personnel, including 328 engines, 106 hand crews, 16 helicopters, 46 dozers, and 69 water tenders.