Science group: Wildfire costs will continue to grow due to climate change
DENVER — The cost of fighting wildfires is rising and will continue to do so as a result of climate change extending the fire season, a nonprofit science group warned last week.
“The annual suppression cost has exceeded $1 billion in each year since 2000,” Rachel Cleetus, senior climate economist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, told USA Today.
The costs of fighting wildfires are rising dramatically, and could keep climbing in the face of climate change that’s contributing to longer fire seasons out West and the spread of housing developments near forests, the group said. But the actual damage costs — including lost tourism revenue and damage to public health and watersheds — can dwarf firefighting costs, Cleetus added.
Climate change is a dominant driver of the fires in the West, according to Jason Funk, a UCS climate scientist.
“Temperatures have risen in the West by 2 degrees since 1970, and there’s been a big change in length of wildfire season, which has risen from five months to seven months,” he said.
The report comes during the largest wildfire in Washington state history. A total of 26 fires are burning almost a million acres in the western U.S. Nationally, wildfires have burned less than half the 10-year average so far this summer.
The report noted that since 1985, fire suppression costs have increased nearly four times from $440 million (in 2012 dollars) to more than $1.7 billion in 2013.
The UCS is widely considered an impartial, non-political group, though it has taken heavy criticism from some conservative politicians and others who don’t believe in the science of climate change.