SALEM, Ore. — The cost of fighting and recovering from wildfires in Oregon will rise beyond the tens of billions of dollars over roughly the next two decades, a new report from the Governor's Council on Wildfire Response found.
While direct firefighting costs in a "high-fire" season rise above $500 million, the report found that related costs — like the resulting impact of smoke and fire on tourism and other industries, plus the recovery costs for areas damaged in the fires — are about 11 times greater, on average. As a result, a single year of particularly active wildfires can cost the state several billion dollars, the report found.
“The devastation left in the wake of recent wildfires across the west is yet another alarming reminder of how this generation and the next will bear the costs of climate change — in lost dollars, homes, and lives," Governor Kate Brown said in a statement. "If we do not act now, Oregon’s grandchildren will be left to pay an appalling price.”
Governor Brown created the Council on Wildfire Response through an executive order in January, following the devastating 2018 fire season. The Council was asked to come up with recommendations and a strategy to deal with the impacts from wildfires and smoke.
The Council includes representatives from fire and forestry agencies, local governments, the timber industry, politicians, and a sampling of major businesses based in Oregon.
During the 2018 fire season, the combined state and federal costs for directly fighting the wildfires totaled roughly $533 million, the Governor's office said.
"Over a century of land management practices that have allowed fuel for wildfires to accumulate far beyond historic conditions, combined with the climate impacts that have made fire seasons longer, drier, and hotter, create significant challenges for all Oregonians," the Governor's office said. "Direct wildfire suppression costs for the Oregon Department of Forestry over the last seven years have grown sixfold."
Another report cited by the Governor's office found that the healthcare costs of wildfire smoke in Oregon during the year 2012 alone amounted to more than $2 billion.
The Council's report estimated that restoring 5.6 million acres of forest lands in order to reduce the risk of wildfires would require an investment of $4 billion over the next 20 years between the public and private sectors. The report recommends that the state immediately set aside $145 million for wildfire costs posed by the next two years.
“This report is a somber reminder that, left unchecked, warming temperatures across the globe will create a year-round risk of wildfires — with a price tag to match,” said Governor Brown. “Make no mistake: if we do not act to address the climate crisis immediately, we will quickly face the prospect of paying the exorbitant costs of wildfire response during a fire season that never ends."