Central Washington fires cost $67.5 million

YAKIMA — Battling the four largest wildfires in central Washington this year cost an estimated $67.5 million.

The Yakima Herald-Republic reported that the figure doesn’t include the cost of replacing damaged or destroyed property, or indirect costs such as lost business and tax revenues.

Joe Shramek of the state Department of Natural Resources said firefighters’ wages and benefits and their equipment are always the greatest expense in fighting fires.

At an estimated $33.6 million, wages and benefits are about half the costs this year for the region’s four largest fires: the Taylor Bridge, Table Mountain, Wenatchee Complex and Yakima Complex. The rest of the costs came from support personnel, logistics, supplies and aviation.

Those figures are estimates based on daily field reports compiled by the Department of Natural Resources.

From 2002 to 2011, an average of $26 million a year has been spent in the state to fight wildfires, according to a 2012 report from the state Department of Ecology.

“There’s a pretty good correlation between size (of the fire) and cost,” Shramek said. “It’s not unusual on these large complex fires for costs to be $500,000 to $1 million a day.”

The 56,000-acre Wenatchee Complex cost more than $1.2 million per day to fight.

Large forest fires could become more common if current weather trends continue, according to the report from Ecology.

“The annual area burned by fire in the Columbia Basin is projected to double or triple” in the next 10 to 30 years, the report said.

The real cost of wildfires goes far beyond fire suppression. The total price tag includes rebuilding, lost business and tax revenue and decreasing property values. Those costs can be 2 to 30 times more than suppression costs, the Western Forestry Leadership Coalition has calculated.

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