2021 Western wildfires: the economic toll
Wildfires have scorched nearly 6 million acres so far across the region
Millions of acres were charred this year as wildfires tore through the West, setting hundreds of structures ablaze and forcing evacuations.
The economic toll? Billions of dollars in losses, and billions more needed for predicting and preventing the blazes, experts say.
The fires come amidst a historic drought that has killed crops and wildlife and led officials to regulate and limit water supplies.
TOTAL DAMAGE AND ECONOMIC LOSS FROM HURRICANE IDA WILL FALL BETWEEN $70B AND $80B: ACCUWEATHER EXPERT
The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) reported Friday that two new large fires were reported and six had been contained.
There are currently 54 active, large fires – largely in Idaho and California – and 5,915,279 acres have been scorched.
While calendars have flipped to October, and generally cooler, damper weather, America's costly wildfire season is far from over.
In 2020, record-breaking wildfires cropped up through December, contributing to an unprecedented number of billion-dollar disasters that year.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Department of Commerce, widespread continuous drought and heat contributed to the severity of Western wildfires and cost the nation $4.7 billion and 45 lives in 2020.
Nearly 10.3 million acres burned, and U.S.-based Risk Management Solutions said the fires cost insurers between $7 billion and $13 billion.
So, how much is this year's season costing the U.S.?
In NOAA's latest budget request, the agency includes $15 million in increased funding to "enable better fire weather predictions and detection, and to improve local communities' access to fire weather data, products, and services."
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In California alone, wildfires have destroyed nearly 50,000 homes over the last five years. In 2021 so far, fires have blackened more than 3,075 square miles and destroyed more than 3,000 homes, commercial properties and other structures. Even the state's prized vacation destination, Lake Tahoe, was threatened.
Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom allocated $1.5 billion for wildfire prevention in the new state budget. Officials say the state is spending $5.2 billion to upgrade water systems and manage drought.
That said, the 2021 wildfire season has been tamer than last year and climate patterns – forecasters say La Niña weather conditions could develop – suggested it is beginning to wind down.
"The total damage and cumulative economic loss for the 2021 wildfire season is expected to be between $70 billion and $90 billion in the U.S. with $45 billion to $55 billion of those damages to California alone," AccuWeather founder and CEO Joel N. Myers predicted in a Friday report.
"This estimate, which includes both insured and uninsured losses and the impact on the U.S. economy, includes damage to homes and businesses as well as their contents and cars, job and wage losses, farm and crop losses, infrastructure damage, auxiliary business losses, school closures and the costs of power outages to businesses and individuals," he added. "The estimate also accounts for economic losses because of highway closures, evacuations and increased insurance premiums throughout the impacted states, firefighting costs, flight cancellations and delays and the current and long-term residual health effects on those impacted by dirty air."
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The weather forecasters expect close to 9 million acres to burn by year's end, with more danger lying ahead due to wind events that could exacerbate fire conditions in California.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.