This year, as well as last, hasn’t been kind to the west in terms of severe wildland and wildland urban interface incidents. Behind the headlines, emotional scenes of loss of property and sometimes, tragically, even life, there’s another cost rarely reported. According to the August edition of Harper’s Magazine August edition, Congress appropriates more than $4 billion annually for battling wildfires, while billions more are spent by state governments. Other costs, including real estate devaluation, emergency services, and post-fire rehabilitation total about thirty times the direct cost of firefighting.
Wildland urban interface fires, where lives and homes are directly at risk, consumes about 95% of fire suppression costs, even though only 15% of burned areas can be considered wildland urban interface. Considering that between 1990 and 2010, 2-million new homes were built in the interface, it’s not hard to imagine how these costs and danger can escalate. While there’s no silver-bullet to turn the trend around, fire-adapted communities and a fire fighting culture that’s always looking for new and more effective ways of containing and controlling wildland and WUI incidents are the best hope for better headlines next year.