State firefighting costs already well over budget

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by JAKE WHITTENBERG / KING 5 News

KREM.com

Posted on July 23, 2014 at 9:18 AM

Updated Wednesday, Jul 23 at 9:38 AM

SEATTLE – The cost of fighting Washington’s wildfires is already well over budget for the year, but federal help is on the way.

The Washington Department of Natural Resources reports that the total cost of resources has already totaled $25 million. The available budget is $19 million.

"The numbers so far are staggering," said Mary Verner, Deputy Supervisor for DNR. "This is still early in the season that is supposed to last through mid-October."

READ: Obama declares federal disaster for WA wildfires

The cost does not include smaller fires burning across the state where state resources have been dispatched. But it does include the Carlton Complex of fires burning in Central Washington. Already considered the largest complex of fires in state history where the fire fight is proving to be costly.

"Looking forward, we have to always worry about whether or not we will have enough money in the state coffers to pay for the fires that actually occurred," said Verner. "That will far exceed the $19 million available."

Verner points out 70% of fires last year were human caused. Those are considered preventable fires that swallow resources that could be used for fire prevention and land treatment.

In 2013, DNR spent $49 million in wildfire fighting efforts. The cost was $25 million in 2012.

Earlier this year, officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that wildfire-fighting costs this summer are projected to run roughly $400 million over budget. Some experts believe wildfire seasons nationwide are stretching longer, and fires are burning larger.

President Barack Obama on Wednesday signed a federal emergency declaration for the areas affected by the wildfires, which means FEMA will step in to help to coordinate the relief efforts.

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