Fires Burn Budgets Badly

| Wed Jul. 30, 2008 5:42 PM PDT

800px-Hercules_C130_bombardier_d_eau_Californie.jpg A couple of interesting articles on the fire season blazing in the West. The LA Times reports how fire commanders are pressured to order aircraft into action on major fires even when they won't do any good.

Why? Because they make good television. CNN drops, they call them.

And because citizens and politicians have come to expect the sight of aircraft dumping water and fire retardant means "their " fire is getting the attention it deserves.

It's not that aircraft aren't useful. They can help a lot. But aircraft don't put out fires, say firefighters. And their use is escalating the cost of fighting wildfires. Last year the Forest Service spent $296 million—up from $171 million in 2004.

The Sacramento Bee reports the Forest Service has already spent $900 million this year, nearly 75 percent of its fire-suppression budget. And this on a season that hasn't reached peak yet.

These days nearly half the Forest Service's budget is spent fighting wildfires or trying to prevent them. In 1991, it took only 13 percent. So far this year's fires have cost $210 million more than at the same point last year.

The Bee article alludes to the fact that climate change is driving a longer, more expensive, and more extensive, fire season.

Which is just one of the reasons why our big global warming experiment is going to be such a budget burner.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award.

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