State's fire expenses at $14 million and climbing

Most expensive fire season in Alaska was 1996, when the state spent more than $71 million

Posted: Monday, July 12, 2004

FAIRBANKS - The government has spent at least $14.4 million dollars so far on six major firefighting efforts in Interior Alaska, and that cost is expected to keep climbing.

"This is going to be an expensive fire year," said Joe Stam, chief of fire and aviation at the Alaska Division of Forestry. "Any time you start bringing a lot of resources from the Lower 48 up, the cost goes up significantly."

The most expensive fire season in Alaska was 1996, when the state and federal governments spent more than $71 million, mostly on the Miller's Reach Fire, which threatened hundreds of homes in the Big Lake area.

"All it takes is one big fire in civilization," said Pete Buist, Alaska Division of Forestry fire information officer.

Several fires fit that description this summer. The Boundary Fire came close to Haystack Mountain and took out 12 to 15 structures; the Wolf Creek Fire destroyed at least seven cabins and knocked on the door of Chena Hot Springs Resort; the Pingo Fire has been on the outskirts of Venetie for days; and Eagle had three blazes bearing down on it at once.

Fire costs includes a number of elements.

Firefighters make $11 to $35 an hour, depending on position, experience, risk and other factors, and work usually 16 hours a day, six or seven days a week.

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