SFGate.com US wildfire costs exceed $2 billion, a record amid a year of extremes
The wildfire season that has leveled hundreds of homes, closed roads and parks, and sent hazy smoke into major cities across the West has become the most expensive in U.S. history, officials said Thursday, marking another chapter in a year of brutal extremes linked to climate change.
A menacing one-two punch of record rain last winter and record heat this summer, following a historic drought in several Western states, gave birth to a bumper crop of grass and brush that has since dried out and burned up.
Big fires that have hit Montana, Oregon and California especially hard have thrust as many as 27,000 people to the fire lines, pushing the cost of fire suppression for the U.S. Forest Service to a milestone $2 billion this year, the agency reported.
The expense tops the agency’s previous record of $1.7 billion in 2015, with two weeks still remaining in the budget year, which runs Oct. 1 through Sept. 30. The cost does not include the smaller amounts spent by other federal and state firefighting agencies.
“The level of continued fire activity and the length of the fire season is what’s driving our costs,” said U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Babete Anderson.
Forty-one large blazes burned out of control across the West on Thursday, the latest in a fire season that began early in California and is forecast to remain much livelier than normal through at least the end of the month.
More than 8 million acres have been blackened nationwide this year, an area larger than the state of Maryland. That’s nearly 50 percent more than what’s usually charred at this point in the year.
Montana has taken the brunt of the devastating season, with the picturesque Rocky Mountains turning into a tableau of flame and smoke. Blazes forced thousands from their homes and killed at least two firefighters.