Economic effects of large wildfires

Cold Springs Fire timeline

A recent study funded by the Joint Fire Science Program conducted by researchers at the University of Oregon analyzed the effects that large wildfires have on the local economy. Using Bureau of Labor statistics, they evaluated on a county level the labor market trends of western US counties from 2004 to 2008 to identify differences between counties that experienced wildfires where the Forest Service spent more than $1 million and counties that did not experience large wildfires. They also analyzed where and how fire suppression funds were spent.

The researchers found that generally, local employment and wages in a county increase during large wildfires, and economic disruptions from large wildfires are outweighed by the economic impact of the suppression effort in the short term.

In addition, they concluded:

  • Large wildfires lead to longer-term instability in local labor markets by amplifying seasonal variation in employment over the subsequent year. This is particularly true in sectors such as tourism and natural resources.
  • On average, the Forest Service spent six percent of wildfire suppression funding in the county where the fires occurred. Amounts of local spending varied from zero to 25 percent.
  • Local capture of suppression contracting is important because it helps mediate labor market effects. However, the ability of rural and resource-dependent counties to capture suppression expenditures appears to be limited.

The researchers provided an example of how funds were spent on the Cold Springs fire which was north of Yakima, Washington in Yakima County. The fire burned approximately 7,000 acres in July, 2008.

Cold Springs Fire timeline

Employment and wages

The total expenditures on the Cold Springs fire were $14 million. It started in sparsely-populated Yakima County, but less than 1 percent of the funds were spent there. However, six percent of the funds were spent in adjacent Klickitat County where the closest population centers are located.

Some of the results of the researcher’s work can be found here. More will be posted on their site later in 2012.

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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.