US shuffles budget as wildfire costs climb

8-20-13-government flat fire
Firefighters continue to battle a wildfire near The Dalles, Aug. 20, 2013. (KOIN 6 News/Bill Cortez)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN ) — It’s costing Oregon $70 million to fight wildfires this summer, compared to the $3 to $7 million for an average summer.

The two largest wildfires in southern Oregon — the Big Windy and Douglas Complex fires — are responsible for almost $60 million of that total. Those costs have mounted as more than 1,000 fire-related personnel have responded to each lightning-caused fire.

This comes as the wildfire burning near the Columbia River Gorge continues to grow. Officials said the three fires making up the Government Flat Complex fire have merged into one. That single fire is slowly spreading west.

The cost of Oregon’s firefighting efforts are being calculated on the same day as the U.S. Forest Service announced it’s diverting $600 million from timber, recreation and other areas to fill the nation’s fire-fighting gap.

The nation’s top wildfire-fighting agency was down to $50 million after spending $967 million so far this year, Forest Service spokesman Larry Chambers said Wednesday in an email to the Associated Press.

Wildfire spending by other federal agencies takes the total to $1.2 billion, the AP reported.

Chambers said the $50 million the Forest Service has left is typically enough to pay for just a few days of fighting fires when the nation is at its top wildfire preparedness level, which went into effect Tuesday.

There are 51 large, uncontained fires burning across the nation, making it tough to meet demands for fire crews and equipment.

– The Associated Press contributed information used in this KOIN.com report.


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