Wildfires have been raging across the nation again this summer. In Washington, Oregon and Montana. But fires alone aren’t the only concern this year.
The 2012 Waldo Canyon fire that destroyed more than 346 homes and was logged as one of the most destructive in Colorado history has had long-lasting effects. This summer, heavy rains in some areas – a welcome change from the hot and dry conditions that contributed to last year’s intense fire season – have brought new challenges in the numerous burn zones across the state.
Charred hillsides, no longer able to absorb all of the moisture, have caused mudslides and dangerous erosion.
The cost of fighting the fires is one issue that the federal government is wrestling with. More than $1 billion has been spent in 2013 to fight the 3.4 million acres of forest that has been burned this year alone. The costs of the lasting effects, including mudslides, insurance claims and other indirect costs are far greater.
One of our biogeography professors, Dr. Jason Sibold, studies the impacts of population growth and climate change. Sibold says as long as people continue to use the land and move into more densely forested areas, we will continue to struggle with the heightened cost of fighting these fires.
“The societal demand to try to control and fight these fires is escalating at the same pace as the climate’s warming,” says Sibold.
Across the nation 963 homes and 30 commercial buildings have burned this year. 30 firefighters have lost their lives trying to save these structures and our forests. Despite the $1 billion price tag, fewer resources overall have been allocated to the effort this year due to federal spending cuts. This includes 500 fewer firefighters overall.