Western wildfires raise the question of who pays
The increasing frequency of these deadly disasters burdens government budgets and could mean new fees for homeowners in harm's way.
It has already been a bad wildfire season out West, even before summer's official arrival. The Black Forest Fire (pictured) in and around Colorado Springs, Colo., has resulted in several deaths and the destruction of more than 500 homes. Firefighting costs for this event have topped $5 million.
Wildfires place a huge economic burden on federal and state budgets. In its new report "The Rising Cost of Wildfire Protection," the Headwaters Economics research group noted the six worst U.S. wildfire seasons since 1960 have all taken place since 2000.
And since 2002, the cost of federal wildfire protection and suppression has averaged more than $3 billion annually. That's more than half the U.S. Forest Service's yearly budget and more than 10% of the entire Department of the Interior's annual budget. And those numbers don't include up to $2 billion that state governments spend each year.
The rising cost of wildfire protection is due in part to a changing climate but also to the growing number of homes being built in and near forests and rural areas that are at higher risk for wildfires -- in what officials call the wildland-urban interface.
"The presence of homes in the WUI affects federal fire fighting strategies," the Headwaters report notes, "and special efforts are often made to protect individual structures."
The report also said only about 16% of WUI areas in the Western states have been developed, and given the growing numbers of people moving into the region, continued building could lead to even greater costs for federal and state governments.
"In essence," Brad Plummer wrote recently in the Washington Post's Wonkblog, "homeowners have been building in fire zones and counting on taxpayers to protect them."
But that may be changing. In January, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper launched a state task force to investigate ways of improving forest health and limiting wildfire destruction.
The group includes representatives of the insurance industry and is considering several new steps. Among them are instituting stricter building codes in WUI areas, creating a state-run insurance program to help cover losses in high-risk wildfire zones without burdening urban residents and imposing a fee on homeowners in high-risk wildfire regions to offset the cost of protecting their property.
Chris Mehl, Headwater's director of public policy, told KUSA-TV that fighting Western wildfires is "not yet at the cost of what floods are from hurricanes on the East Coast. But with the West growing in population, anyone who lives in (Colorado's) Front Range area is well aware that we're heading in that direction just because more and more homes are at risk."
People should only pay in the form of extra taxes or fees to cover the cost of the firefighting services and manpower FOR THAT AREA. If a state or municipality has huge costs to cover this event, then the cost should be levied back to those states or towns. But not to everyone. It just like if a northern city has huge costs for salt and snow removal. That town has to raise funds to pickup the costs. And if a home or business gets destroyed, I'm sorry for your loss but its no different than an electrical spark or gasline break. Bad luck - sucks to be you. You built in a heavily wooded area. Wildfires are sadly a fact of life. Give these homeowners/business owners cheap loans or other benefits (just like any other major disaster) to help rebuild but don't ask me (who lives in a tornado prone area and thus my own special concerns) to pick up the tab.
This a roll of the dice. If you elect to purchase homeowners insurance and your home is destroyed by a raging fire, your assets are covered just as if you had auto insurance and your car was destroyed. But, if you don't have homeowner insurance and this happens, in my opinion, it's “to bad so sad” because you didn't buy proper protection. As a tax payer, I see no need to bail your butt out because you could have been protected but were to cheap to pay for it. If I am wrong, what’s next? Maybe people who are to cheap to buy auto insurance and want to be covered by the government after an accident?...............
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