The 2015 wildfire season is now the costliest on record, with $1.71 billion spent to fight the blazes, the U.S. Forest Service said Wednesday. The previous record of $1.67 billion, adjusted for inflation, was set in fiscal year 2002, U.S. Department of Agriculture communications director Matt Herrick said.
With the season nearly over, 9.8 million acres burned in 2015, the second-highest total since records began in 1960, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. Only 2006, with 9.87 acres charred, had a higher total. In addition, seven Forest Service firefighters died this year battling wildfires. Since 2000, on average, 18 firefighters have died each year fighting flames, the fire center reports.
Most of the fires hit the West and Alaska, which is typical. The size of the area burned this year is roughly equivalent to the states of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined.
Over the past 10 years, the Forest Service has spent $1.13 billion on average each year to fight wildfires. That amount does not include local or state costs to fight fires. Nor does it include other federal agency firefighting costs. Agencies such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also chip in, though the Forest Service contributes the most.
Because of the cost of fighting fires, the Forest Service has been forced to tap other funds, such as forest-thinning projects, in order to keep up with the massive blazes, according to a report released by the agency in August.