The 70,000 acre Rocky Fire that is still raging near Clear Lake California has defied firefighter’s predictions of how a wildfire should behave. It has already crossed highways, fire lines and other barriers which were expected to contain it. On Saturday, the fire grew by 22,000 acres, engulfing an area of land that had been predicted to take a week to burn. More than 3,600 firefighters are now fighting the fire, which is currently 40 percent contained.
“I’ve got 30 years in, and in the last 10 years I have seen fire behavior that I had never seen in my entire career,” Capt. Ron Oatman, a public information officer for Cal Fire, told The New York Times. The recent drought, which has seen rainfall up to 30 inches below normal for the last three years, has left trees and undergrowth sapped of moisture and ready to ignite. The drought has made computer models used to predict fire behavior all but obsolete.
As the wildfires grow, so has the cost of fighting them. A report released yesterday by the US Department of Agriculture shows, for the first time in history, more than 50 percent of the Forest Service’s budget is now being spent fighting fires.
“Climate change and other factors are causing the cost of fighting fires to rise every year,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, “but the way we fund our Forest Service hasn’t changed in generations.”
Because of the cost of fighting fires, according to the USDA report, programs in place to prevent forest fires from starting in the first place, such as forest restoration and land management planning, are becoming critically underfunded. The report also notes within 10 years the agency will spend more than two-thirds of its budget battling fires and that these blazes are projected to burn twice as many acres by 2050.
Via New York Times