Opinion: I am tired of complaints about the cost of fighting wildfires

Firefighting and warfighting are both expensive

Whoopup Fire Wyoming

Above: Whoopup Fire, Wyoming, 2011

The large air tankers on exclusive use contracts have been cut this year from 20 to 13. In 2002 there were 44. This is a 73 percent reduction in the last 16 years.

No scooping air tankers are on exclusive use contracts this year.

The large Type 1 helicopters were cut last year from 34 to 28 and that reduction remains in effect this year.

Some say we need to reduce the cost of fighting wildfires. At first glance the above cuts may seem to accomplish that. But failing to engage in a quick, aggressive initial attack on small fires by using overwhelming force from both the air and the ground, can allow a 10-acre fire to become a megafire, ultimately costing many millions of dollars. CAL FIRE gets this. The federal government does not.

Meanwhile the United States spends trillions of dollars on adventures on the other side of the world while the defense of our homeland against the increasing number of acres burned in wildfires is being virtually ignored by the Administration and Congress. A former military pilot told me this week that just one sortie by a military plane on the other side of the world can cost millions of dollars when the cost of the weapons used is included. The military industrial complex has hundreds of dedicated, aggressive, well-funded lobbyists giving millions to our elected officials. Any pressure on politicians to better defend our country from wildfires on our own soil is very small by comparison.

I am tired of people wringing their hands about the cost of wildfires.

You can’t fight fire on the cheap — firefighting and warfighting are both expensive. What we’re spending in the United States on the defense of our homeland is a very small fraction of what it costs to blow up stuff in countries that many Americans can’t find on a map.

Government officials and politicians who complain about the cost need to stop talking and fix the problem. The primary issue that leads to the whining is that in busy years we rob Peter to pay Paul — taking money from unrelated accounts to pay for emergency fire suppression. This can create chaos in those other functions such as fire prevention and reducing fuels that make fires difficult to control. Congress needs to create the “fire funding fix” that has been talked about for many years — a completely separate account for fires. Appropriately and adequately funding fire suppression and rebuilding the aerial firefighting fleet should be high priorities for the Administration and Congress.

Maybe we need some teenagers to take on this issue!

14 thoughts on “Opinion: I am tired of complaints about the cost of fighting wildfires”

  1. I am tired of it too especially since if the USFS engaged in proper forest management and if responsible logging were allowed many of the devastating fires we have seen would not have grown as large as they have.

    1. environmental groups like the sierra club need to be fought. some years ago there was a relatively small fire south lake Tahoe,but it did alot of damage to homes and lives that if the envro’s hadnt been allowed to create laws ( rules) saying that residents in the area could not remove pine needles from their property,that fire wouldnt have been nearly as destructive,i remember seeing videos of the fire activity and you could see it making huge runs through the duff,had it been cleaned up,it wouldnt have happened,you can no longer see those videos as the sierra club got them banned.

  2. What can we do about it? I call and write my congressional leaders regularly about this issue but I have never gotten a response. I’m all ears if there is something more we can do.

  3. The USFS needs to take a serious look at wilderness fire policy. In OR last year at lear two wilderness
    fires started out as management fires or at least received something less than a full IA response . A few days later things blew up and the fires ran out of the wilderness area. Then you end up with large fire in a long term management mode. It may start in the wilderness but with 60+ days of fire season still in front of you, no fire manager can predict where it will end up. Ya I know wilderness is sacred; but several loads of retardant and aggressive sustained IA would have saved millions.

  4. Hi from Boise, here getting some training. I’ve been thinking about fire all day, so want to share some thoughts. I think that most agree that there are circumstances when we can let wilderness burn. Just let us predict which wilderness fires can threaten the non-wilderness areas, then bomb the hell out of them. Of course that will cost, but I think that it can be proven that in the long run it costs less to get ’em out quick. Then there is a thing called inflation, but politicians will not admit to its reality. Finally, fires are getting more intense, and more people live in the areas threatened. I like the comment on the prisoners. I wonder if all the taxpayers would ever vote for the protection that they need? The recent fatalities are sometimes preventable, sometimes not. I’ll be quiet now and watch BBall.

  5. Seems like all of the above commentators are on the same page ! Because of poor planning and funding ,it seems as if last years costs were astronomical in terms of lives lost ,structures burned and families and wildlife displaced
    We have seen the worst results from misguided policies, do nothing Federal officials ,and an inept Congress ![as Bill said ,perhaps teenagers could better handle the problem ?]
    Bill G. , did a great analysis, and has now consistently been hitting the nail on the head !
    I am wondering if the lack of funding for aerial Firefighting equipment is just stupidity,or a concerted effort from the “let burn ” types .Pursuing their agenda, or ignorance needs to come to an end ,now. Accordingly ,I am concerned that we don’t have very proactive Secys. of the Interior and Agriculture .These guys are doing very little to obtain funding ,and perhaps they should be placed on the Pres. Trump chopping block.
    Additionally , some of the States [e.g. Montana] are doing very little to help themselves . States could be more aggressive in at least purchasing a few of their own helos , CL 415 Scoopers ,etc .Cal Fire is an excellent example of states attempting to help themselves
    Maybe instead of purchasing a couple more F 35’s fighter planes ,that money could be allocated towards Aerial Tankers [it would go a long way!]. Or Congress could just steal more money from the SOCIAL SECURITY TRUST FUND and use that ,instead of wasting funds on Pork Barrel projects ? VERY SAD.

  6. States can’t print money like the Feds can, they’d love to go out and spend $37M on as new 415, but they can’t because State finances are challenged, thus they actually have to spend more like private industry – what is the best value for my state $$? CalFire is its own country, so it can by twelve $17M helos, but even that isn’t the right way to fight the fires…take a look at how Washington, Idaho, Minnesota, Spain and other European countries do it….much more cost effective and fires for the most part never turn into what occurred in California last year…

  7. “The average daily rate for air tankers on standby is 54 percent more expensive than exclusive-use planes. Their hourly rate is also 18 percent higher, according to a cost review by Bill Gabbert of FireAviation.com. Gabbert found that among three air tanker companies (including Neptune), the exclusive use daily rate is $30,150 plus $$7,601 per hour of flight time. The CWN daily rate is $46,341 plus $8,970 per hour.” From the Missoulian March 9, 2018. One of the few times I have ever seen an actual cost. This is fixed wing, what are the costs of rotors? There has been a tendency to focus costs on personnel “feet on the ground”, which is obviously almost inconsequential to aircraft costs. R-1 deciding to not utilize jumpers or helitack for rapid IA is unfortunate. There were examples where these resources could have impacted the growth/size of at least two major fires in 2017 in R-1.

      1. Bill, what are the actual rates, (apparently you did the averaging?) how much do they vary? How about rotors? The public should ought to be educated about all suppression costs on a line item basis. That way many would be able to discern actual fixed costs and expenses of resources used for suppression. Is there a published list of resource costs?

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