Richard Piatt ReportingWhat looks like a very hot fire season in Utah could end up costing tax payers a pretty penny. In a bad fire year, it's more expensive than ever to fight a wildfire, but the need to fight them has never been greater, as fire cuts close to where people live.
Fire retardant drops from a big tanker plane: 5-thousand dollars each. Helicopters: up to 10-thousand dollars an hour. 20-person Fire crews: 7-thousand dollars a day, and dozens are working fires in Utah right now.
Taxpayers are footing a big bill already this year. Estimates already top more than a million dollars. And preventing fires is the only sure way to avoid paying more.
Sheldon Wimmer, Bureau of Land Management: "It is an expensive business and it does cost taxpayers. So if we can prevent human ignitions, that saves a lot of money."
But the reality is that human-caused fires seem almost as inevitable as lightning strikes. Last year Utah and Federal Government fire fighting costs topped 12-million dollars total, and it was considered a 'light' year. Utah's portion was 4-point-3 million dollars of that; 2-million dollars over what the Legislature budgeted for fire suppression.
Ratcheting up the costs are the growing number of homes built near the potential source of a fire. These situations require a direct and intense response more often than ever.
Joel Frandsen, State Forestry Director: "From the fire and the expanded urban interface, it's costing between eight to 10 times as much, just because of the value of the resources that are there."
For Tim and Cindy Reder, whose home firefighters saved in New Harmony Tuesday, the expense and effort is greatly appreciated.
Tim Reder, Home Saved: “When he called and said, ‘I’m calling on your phone in your kitchen, and your waterfall is running,’ we were happy.”
Already for some of the Southern Utah fires, FEMA has stepped in and pledged additional money, which essentially saves the state from stretching its budget any more.