By Trevor Brown
The Wyoming Tribune-Eagle
CHEYENNE, Wyo. — The fires that scorched about 600,000 acres across the state this year will cost Wyoming more than $40 million.
State Forester Bill Crapser said the entire firefighting cost for the unprecedented season in Wyoming is estimated at $108 million. The state and county share of that amount stands at $42.5 million. The rest is covered by the federal government.
"It was a heck of a fire season," he told the Wyoming Legislature's Joint Appropriations Committee on Friday. "It was record-setting not only for us, but for most of the western United States."
Crapser said the damage was easily more than double what is typically seen.
He said there were 1,400 fires this season in Wyoming, including several large blazes. There are normally only 600 to 700 fires a season, he said.
Crapser said this single season caused the state to use up all of its fire suppression emergency account and its standard fire-suppression budget for the entire biennium.
He said the state also transferred $11 million from other departments to pay for the costs.
And even with $11 million expected back from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, he said the state will face a $7.3 million shortfall that will have to be found elsewhere in the budget.
He said those costs are so high because thousands of firefighters — 4,000 at one point — flocked to the state to help the efforts. This even included crews from as far away as Alaska and Delaware.
Adding to the bad news, he said federal officials are predicting an even worse fire season next year.
He said dry conditions and the large number of beetle-killed trees, which feed the fires, could make 2013 even costlier.
"The predictions show larger, more severe fire seasons in the future," he said. "I don't predict we'll see fire seasons as large as this every year, but I think we will see a continual escalation."
Even though the state is looking at budget cuts for the coming fiscal year, Gov. Matt Mead said he intends to increase state funding for fire-suppression efforts.
"When you combine one drought year on top of another, it is not a good plan, in my mind, to not have that money to fight fires next summer," he said. "As a result, I will have at least as much proposed in my (supplemental) budget to fight fires next year as we spent this year."
Sen. Phil Nicholas, R-Laramie, who co-chairs the Joint Appropriations Committee, said he would also be open to increasing funding for preventive fire-suppression services.
He asked forestry officials for recommendations to ramp up prevention efforts if they could save money on the back end.
"I'll give you $5 if you can give us $10 back," he said.
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