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State pegs fire costs at $21.9 million and rising

The state has insurance to cover the costs of severe fires, but it doesn’t kick in until the state has spent $50 million of its own money

By Claire Withycombe

Capital Bureau

Published on September 5, 2017 5:16PM

Last changed on September 6, 2017 9:10AM

SALEM — As wildfire season continues across Oregon, the state’s forestry department had spent $21.9 million on firefighting costs as of the end of August, a department official said Tuesday.

With the Eagle Creek fire accelerating on the Columbia River Gorge, and other fires continuing across the state from Brookings to Sisters, firefighting costs are poised to grow higher.

Property owners with land classified as forest pay a state assessment to help cover firefighting costs in addition to money the Legislature appropriates from the general fund. The state has also purchased an insurance policy most years since 1973 to help cover firefighting costs.

But before it can tap that coverage, the state has to spend $50 million of its own money, according to Ken Armstrong, public affairs director at the Oregon Department of Forestry.

Although wildfires are a reality of summer for many of Oregon’s rural communities, cities in the Willamette Valley also felt the effects of wildfires over the holiday weekend and on Tuesday in smoky air and ash.

The state’s forestry department not only fights fires on state-owned land but also on federal and private land.

“Especially right now, the way things are this fire season, we pretty much have people on just about everything on the landscape,” Armstrong said.


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