Idaho's Wildfire Season Costs The State $8.5 Million...So Far

Aug 1, 2013

Credit U.S. Air Force / Flickr Creative Commons

It's the first day of August, and wildfire season has already cost Idaho $8.5 million. With two more months of fire activity likely, it's looking like the state will spend more than it did last year to fight fires.

So why the increase in fire fighting costs so early in the summer? The answer lies partly with the kind of fires the state is battling.

As predicted by the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), Idaho range and grasslands are getting a break this year. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) mostly fights fires on rangeland. Federal fire officials with the BLM expect their season to begin winding down soon. 

But when it comes to Idaho forests, the fire season has been more severe -- and directly impacts Idaho's bottom line.

Credit Chart: Emilie Ritter Saunders | Data: Idaho Dept. of Lands

Emily Callihan is with the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL). She says the $8.5 million price tag is just the cost of suppressing fires on state managed land so far this year. Forests in the west central mountains and into parts northern Idaho are focal points for fire activity this year, as well as forested areas in Boise County. Callihan says the forest fire season didn't really get going until July, but now it looks like it's here to stay until sometime in October. 

Callihan says the $8.5 million will come from general funds out the state's piggy bank. The final total will need to be paid back during the 2014 legislative session.

“It’s sort of like charging the fire suppression costs to a credit card – not knowing how much the fire suppression costs will be," she says. "It just depends on the fire activity and what it costs to put it out, but it’s always paid in full by the Legislature the following session.”

Right now, the cost of fighting fires  in 2013 has already exceeded the five-year average, and with two more active months to go, Callihan says that price tag will rise.

Idaho Department of Land fires by the numbers:

  • 85 fires have burned on IDL land in 2013, that's 48 percent of the 20-year average
  • 63 of those fires (74 percent) have been human caused
  • 23 of those fires have been sparked by lightning
  • 3,656 acres of IDL managed land have burned so far this year
  • 187 fires burned on IDL land in 2012, that's 51 percent of the 20-year average
  • 4,755 acres of IDL managed land burned in 2012