Only three months after approving a larger-than-average $209 million to fight wildfires, the State of California has already exhausted its allocated wildfire budget and is now using funds from an emergency $70 million reserve, according to a report by the Los Angeles Times. Wildfires have cost the state of California more than $4 billion in the past decade, with a USDA report projecting the cost of wildfires in 2014 to exceed available funding by more than $470 million.
While the state typically goes over budget in fighting wildfires, this shortage comes on the cusp of the heightened Southern California wildfire season in early fall. In the midst of the worst drought in the history of the state, California is experiencing an exceptionally destructive wildfire season, with CAL FIRE reporting 5,059 fires as of September 27, compared to a five-year average of 4,066 in the same time span.
The droughts have led to more resistant wildfires than usual, with a recent Northern California fire requiring a record-setting 203,000 gallons of flame retardant in a single day.
Wildfire suppression costs in the Pacific Northwest this year have been as high as $20 million a day, and expenses will likely increase as the National Interagency Fire Center expects “above normal fire potential” to persist across the state throughout October.
The White House has pushed to create an increased national reserve fund for extreme wildfire events this year, but the program would only be designed as a resource for dealing with the “most extreme” catastrophic forest fires, according to a Washington Post report.
The state is drawing its current emergency funding from its “Special Fund for Economic Uncertainties—Disaster Response Emergency Operations Account,” but if this $70 million extension runs dry, the possible options might grow even more slim. State governments are often forced to pull their emergency funding to fight wildfires from money appropriated for wildfire prevention and forest restoration initiatives, such as clearing brush and dead trees.
As the effects of climate change lead to longer wildfire seasons each year, more fiscal obstacles to wildfire prevention can be expected in coming seasons.