Costs of Idaho wildfire expected to double in 2021

By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports

In a blazing hot summer, fires continue to burn across Idaho and on Tuesday, the director of the Department of Lands said the conditions show no signs of improvement.

The Idaho State Board of Land Commissioners met Tuesday to hear an update on fires from IDL Director Dustin Miller. 

As of Aug. 11, emergency fire suppression costs in Idaho were at about $51.8 million this season. Only $1.6 million of that is anticipated to be reimbursed, leaving Idaho with a tab of more than $50 million. 

That price tag has more than doubled since July, when Miller told the board that as of July 20, the cost of fire suppression for IDL was at $22 million.

IDL is only one agency responsible for fire suppression, so that price tag is not a full picture of the cost of wildfire. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the U.S. Forest Service, all taxpayer funded, also have wildfire suppression budgets that are not included in Miller’s costs.

According to Miller, fire occurrence in 2021 is 161% of the 20-year average, and the number of acres burned is 578% of the 20-year average.  

So far, 2021 has seen 115,971 acres of land burned across the state. The 20-year average is 20,049 acres burned in one year.

Gov. Brad Little, who sits on the Land Board, asked Miller if he had a cost estimate for the rest of the fire season.

Miller said under current conditions, he anticipates the cost could double in the next six weeks. The state has a balance of about $37 million in its deficiency warrant account for fires, he said. That means the state could be facing a supplemental appropriation request of roughly another $60 million for 2021 fire suppression. 

The Department of Lands continues to fund combatting its wildfires through deficiency warrants, approved by the Land Board. The Land Board is granted the authority for fire suppression purposes under the Idaho Forestry Act.

Fire danger is forecasted to be above average in northern and southwest Idaho during August and September.

For information on Idaho fire restrictions, visit idl.idaho.gov/fire-management/fire-restrictions-finder/.

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