State braces for cost of fighting wildfires

The Oregon Department of Forestry urges caution given the $200 million it cost to fight fires over the past two summers.

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The Oregon Department of Forestry is urging caution given the $200 million it cost to fight fires over past two summers.

The agency has an insurance policy with Lloyd’s of London that pays out $25 million toward the cost of fighting fires once the deductible is fulfilled, according to the Medford Mail Tribune.

“We’re not just the only state, we’re the only entity in the world that has this kind of policy,” says Tim Keith, administrator of the state’s Land Protection Fund.

ODF spent $200 million on wildland firefighting statewide in 2013 and 2014, prompting Lloyd’s of London to raise both the deductible, which was $20 million, and the premium, which increased from about $2 million last year to $3.75 million this year. Keith says ODF had the option to keep the deductible at $25 million, but the premium would have more than quadrupled.  Wildfires in southwestern Oregon alone cost ODF $79 million over the past two years, and if dry conditions persist, 2015 could be just as costly — or worse. Officials at ODF’s Southwest Oregon District say drought conditions, a lackluster snowpack and the inevitable likelihood of lightning are expected to contribute to another busy and expensive fire season. 

ODF is in charge of protecting about 16 million acres.

From the Portland Business Journal:

The costs don’t include losses from burned homes and the impact to communities.

“With drought conditions plaguing much of the state, it is crystal clear that, as a society, we all need to put fire prevention practices front and center in our daily lives,” said Tom Fields, the department’s fire prevention coordinator, in a release.

Medford-based aviation company Erickson is expecting to send out at least 75% of its S-64 heavy-lift helicopter fleet to battle blazes this summer.

From the Medford Mail Tribune:

During the peak season, 16 of 20 aircraft are deployed for firefighting duty, including three in Greece and one in Turkey. The city of Los Angeles, Los Angeles County and San Diego County all have their own S-64s, while each of the helicopters assigned to the U.S. Forest Service has a designated base, primarily in the West.

“But in reality they get moved to wherever the Forest Service needs them for fires,” [commercial aviation vice president Andy] Mills said. “If we start getting big fires in California we might wind up with six of the eight cranes in California. Potentially, if they have bad fires, we might have as many as 11 cranes in California late in the season. It’s unusual for them all to be there, but it’s not impossible.”

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