Jolly Mountain and Norse Peak fires cost state and federal agencies millions of dollars
YAKIMA, Wash.- We are in the era of megafires according to an ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service.
Especially in the Pacific Northwest where forests cover most of the land and fires are put out before they can get rid of dead trees and brush.
"When you couple big areas of forest and century without fire, you've got the making for a lot of real estate that can burn," Dr. Paul Hessburg with the Forest Service.
The problem with these fires is local fire departments don't have the resources or money to put them out. However, once you get state and federal agencies involved, you now have enough money to burn.
Public information officer Jennifer Jones said the US Forest Service has a budget of $1.6 billion but have exceeded its budget 11 times in the last 15 years, including 2017.
"With $2.4 billion in fire suppression is a record year,” she said. “The most we have ever spent."
The Jolly Mountain and Norse Peak fires burned almost 100,000 acres combined and cost the Forest Service more than $46 million. Along with the Department of Natural Resources who spent almost $50 million.
Both agencies had hundreds of firefighters on the ground and none of them work for free.
A single, entry level firefighter costs the forest service over $200 a day, which includes overtime and hazard pay.
Most handcrews went to multiple fires and that can rack up a lot of overtime quickly.
"We are sitting at about 900 hours of overtime so we'll break a thousand hours on top of our 40 a week," Ahtanum HandCrew Boss Jason Horner said.
1000 hours of overtime would equal almost $20,000 for a single firefighter during fire season.
There weren’t only resources on the ground. Air support was used to drop water on the fire from above.
The forest service has to pay thousands of dollars to have the air tankers available and then pay over $8,000 an hour once it's in the air.
And since so many people were used to get them contained proper equipment and a place to spend the night were needed as well.
When you factor in the gear and supporting the camps they lived in for over a month those two alone cost over $20 million, which is almost half of the total cost for Jolly Mountain and Norse Peak.
Now DNR and the US Forest Service worked together to get both fires contained, but at what cost?
For a little more than $97 million.
Jones said she hopes they find a new way to increase their budget to keep up with how bad fire season has become.
She said this spending only takes away from other projects that could help reduce fire intensity.