Wildfire's rippling costs to hit California hard

Excessively dry and hot conditions have led to a tenfold increase on California’s wildfire fighting costs in 20 years, from around $60 million in 1996 to more than $600 million in 2016.

California is also experiencing bigger and more intense wildfires. Notably, the 2016 Soberanes Fire was the most expensive wildfire fight in U.S. history, topping more than $200 million in firefighting expenses.

Cal Fire reports the state had spent $505 million as of January 2017 before having to battle the deadly Northern California blazes.

The Cal Fire budget comes out to just less than $2 billion. Typically, about a quarter of that is spent just putting out fires. But this year isn’t likely to be typical. Cal Fire had deployed well over 11,000 firefighters—a combination of agency hires, private contractors, federal workers, employees of other state agencies, and prison inmate crews—to the 14 major infernos raging across the state.

This small army had been re-enforced with an arsenal of heavy-duty machinery, including:

  • 973 tankers and water trucks
  • 150-plus bulldozers
  • 58 helicopters (including 11 owned by Cal Fire)
  • 10 airplanes (of the 23 owned by the agency)

The blazes in California’s wine country will also take an economic toll. According to the Wine Institute, which represents California wineries, California wine is a $114 billion-a-year industry and employs 325,000 Californians. The 23.6 million visitors to California’s wine country is more than the estimated 20.4 millionvisitors to Walt Disney World in Florida.

State Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones says preliminary data from eight insurers show more than $1 billion in losses to homes, businesses, vehicles and agricultural equipment. “These numbers are just the beginning of the story as one of the deadliest and costliest wildfire catastrophes in California’s history,” Jones said.

CoreLogic, a property analytics firm, estimates the October wildfires could cause up to $65 billion in property damage in Napa and Santa Rosa with more than 172,000 homes at risk.