$140M spent on Colorado wildfires: who pays for it?

California Wildfires, Photo Date: 7/29/2018 / Photo: Kari Greer / USFS / (MGN)
California Wildfires, Photo Date: 7/29/2018 / Photo: Kari Greer / USFS / (MGN)
Published: Aug. 27, 2018 at 4:35 PM MDT
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One of the worst wildfire seasons in Colorado history has been costly as well.

Wildfires have already ripped through more than 400,000 acres in the state, making this the second-worst year on record. The cost of fighting the fires is nearly $145 million as of August 15, according to The Denver Post.

In Western Colorado, the 416 Fire has been the most expensive so far, checking in at more than $30 million. The Cache Creek Fire cost $6 million to fight and, so far, the Lake Christine Fire has tallied up more than $17 million.

"We've projected out some costs for our ground crews and engines and helicopters, and we're looking at about $18.5 million," said Karen Schroyer, Aspen-Sopris District Manager, about the Lake Christine Fire.

Who is responsible for paying for it? It depends on where the fire burned and who is putting it out.

"A portion of the fire is covered through state funds as they stepped in when the fire was on state and private land," Schroyer said. "The remaining cost will be covered by federal taxpayer dollars to cover that amount on both BLM land and National Forests."

Counties pitch into the state's wildfire suppression fund. According to the public policy firm Pew Charitable Trusts, that covers around $1 million. That means when it goes over, the lawmakers will have to re-balance their budgets to meet the costs.

FEMA sometimes helps, but some fires are too remote to qualify if they didn't threaten life or critical infrastructure. Federal money has been strained. The Forest Service spends more than half their budget now on wildfire suppression.

In December, Congress passed a budget that includes about $2 billion a year to combat wildfires over the next decade. The National Interagency Fire Center is currently battling fires on more than 2 million acres of land across the U.S.