firefighters

Helicopters carry water to help douse a wildfire near Milton-Freewater on Aug. 1.

The last two fire seasons have been arduous for Oregon, especially in terms of the amount of fires and the cost to fight them.

According to data from the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center, which serves as logistical support for fire management in Oregon and Washington, last year’s reported totals for large fires in Oregon cost about $447 million. Large fires are classified as greater than or equal to 100 acres in timber and 300 acres in grass and brush.

As of Aug. 20, this year’s total comes to about $321 million, and fire season is not yet over, although it appears to be winding down. The next-highest price tag in the last 10 years was in 2014, costing a little over $280 million.

“There’s definitely an upward trend,” said Tim Keith, who provides oversight for the Oregon Forest Land Protection Fund.

Since 2011, there have been more large fires than previous decades, he said.

According to NICC fire analyst Timothy Klukas, a drought in Oregon set off an early fire season this year. Grass and brush received three weeks less moisture than previous years, he said, which made them more susceptible to ignition.

“When you think about the native vegetation, it’s drier, it’s more cured out, it’s going to release energy quicker,” Klukas said.

He said the drought in Eastern Oregon spread into Washington and contributed to the growing trend of increasing fires.

“We had large fires where you don’t normally have large fires,” he said.

Keith said Oregon dedicates $20 million to fire suppression on state lands each year. Half of that comes from the general fund and the other half is matched by the Oregon Forest Land Protection Fund.

If that is exceeded, another $30 million is drawn from the general fund. If that is also exhausted, Oregon has an insurance policy with Lloyd’s of London for $25 million.

Oregon is reimbursed for fires it extinguishes on federal lands, and as of July 1, it no longer pays for fires on Bureau of Land Management land in Western Oregon, Keith said.

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