Increasingly severe wildfires, supercharged by climate change, are overwhelming state budgets to fight and respond to them, a new report from the Pew Charitable Trusts says. Numerous direct and secondary impacts (including extreme heat, drought, and the proliferation of tree-killing insects) of climate change, caused mainly by the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels, make wildfires more severe by creating conditions that transform what could be otherwise manageable fires into unfathomable conflagrations.
Even though state budget outlays for wildfires have increased dramatically — Washington tripled its average annual wildfire spending from the first half to the second half of the 2010s — those increases have failed to keep pace with increased wildfire costs. Some of the shortfalls are also caused by states basing budget allocations on the costs incurred in previous years, as is the case in California and Alaska.
The issue is also not simply a question of total money spent, but the fire activities on which it is focused. Mitigation measures — both to prevent, or prevent the dangerous growth of wildfires — can save money in the long-run, but are often deprioritized in favor of urgent fire suppression measures, which can in turn set the stage for even bigger blazes in the future. (E&E $, Grist, Route Fifty; Washington: KUOW; California: Modesto Bee; New Mexico: KRQE)