The 2017 Fire Season Has Been More Expensive Than Any on Record. And It’s Only Going to Get Worse.

More than half the Forest Service budget has been spent fighting wildfires.

Fire in Fallbrook, CASteven K. Doi/ZUMA

This story was originally published by High Country News and appears here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

The 2017 fire season was the nation’s costliest, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which houses the Forest Service. That agency’s annual budget is increasingly dedicated to suppressing and fighting wildland fires, as longer seasons and more destructive blazes require more resources. Millions of acres have burned in the West this year, mostly in California, Montana and Oregon. Some of the West’s biggest fires began in September, at a time when the fire season is typically waning. But by mid-September, California had declared the first of several states of emergency, when blazes threatened giant sequoias in Yosemite National Park. Nowhere were fires more intense than in Montana, where more than 1.2 million acres burned. In Oregon, the Eagle Creek Fire tore through the Columbia River Gorge. With long-term climate trends portending more frequent droughts, this kind of severe and expensive fire season is more likely to become the norm. According to the National Interagency Fire Center’s most recent wildfire potential outlook report, it’s not over, either: Southern California should see higher than normal wildfire activity well into 2018. 

QUICK FIRE FACTS:

  • A typical fire season in the West could soon last more than 300 days.
  • More than 33 percent of houses in the U.S. are in the wildland-urban interface. Such development increases the cost of wildfire protection.
  • On average, about 85 percent of wildfires in the United States are caused by people.
  • About 28,000 personnel, 1,900 engines, 250 aircraft and 200 active-duty military personnel were deployed during the peak of the 2017 fire season.
  • Since 1998, fire staffing within the Forest Service has increased 
    114 percent, from 5,700 employees in 1998 to over 12,000 in 2015.

Data Sources: U.S. Forest Service, National Interagency Fire Center, 2014 Quadrennial Fire Review, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

OUR NEW CORRUPTION PROJECT

The more we thought about how MoJo's journalism can have the most impact heading into the 2020 election, the more we realized that so many of today's stories come down to corruption: democracy and the rule of law being undermined by the wealthy and powerful for their own gain.

So we're launching a new Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption. We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We'll publish what we find as a major series in the summer of 2020, including a special issue of our magazine, a dedicated online portal, and video and podcast series so it doesn't get lost in the daily deluge of breaking news.

It's unlike anything we've done before and we've got seed funding to get started, but we're asking readers to help crowdfund this new beat with an additional $500,000 so we can go even bigger. You can read why we're taking this approach and what we want to accomplish in "Corruption Isn't Just Another Scandal. It's the Rot Beneath All of Them," and if you like how it sounds, please help fund it with a tax-deductible donation today.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate