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Climate change could drive costs of fighting wildfires to $5 billion a year, report finds

An aircraft drops red flame retardant chemicals on a tall, green forest. The sky is a hazy gray.
U.S. Forest Service
An aircraft drops flame retardant chemicals on the Pioneer Fire in the Boise National Forest in 2016.

According to the federal Climate Financial Risk report, which analyzed 10 future climate scenarios, a moderate estimate is that wildfire suppression costs grow to nearly $4 billion per year by 2050. By the end of the century, firefighting costs rise to nearly $5 billion a year. In the most severe climate scenario, the costs surge to about $13 billion per year.

Under moderate estimates, Mountain West states would see the amount of land burned by wildfire double or triple by late century as climate change fuels wildfire risk and behavior.

Jeff Prestemon, a researcher with the U.S. Forest Service and report co-author, said the analysis does not estimate the rising costs of wildfire damage.

“The wildfires do a lot more than just require action to control them and put them out,” Prestemon said. “They damage houses, they disrupt communities, which is a central focus of firefighting.”

The Forest Service is working to reduce wildfire risk. Last year, the agency partnered with communities and tribes to treat more than 4 million acres of hazardous fuels across the country, which includes conducting prescribed burns and thinning flammable vegetation and brush.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Kaleb is an award-winning journalist and KUNR’s Mountain West News Bureau reporter. His reporting covers issues related to the environment, wildlife and water in Nevada and the region.
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