Costs of Wildfire Suppression

For this week’s blog post, I chose to look at Timothy Ingalsbee’s report titled “Getting Burned: a Taxpayer’s Guide to Wildfire Suppression Costs.” The report summarizes the various reasons why wildfire suppression costs are increasing every year and why the USFS has exceeded their budget nearly every year for the past 20 years. The first reason is that wildfire activity is increasing, and thus the need for increased wildfire suppression (Ingalsbee, 2010). He also claims that excess fuel accumulations, expansion of housing in the WUI area, and climate change are reasons that the suppression costs continue to increase (Ingalsbee, 2010). It is important to note that expansion of housing into the WUI area accounts for nearly half of the total suppression costs (Ingalsbee, 2010). Ingalsbee continues on to describe various other institutional drivers such as private firefighters, cost-share agreements, and careless spending as well as discuss the importance of managing rather than fighting wildfires and its ability to significantly reduce suppression costs (Ingalsbee, 2010).

One of the most interesting aspects for me was how significant an impact the protection of homes in the WUI area has on the total budget. Ingalsbee notes how the annual costs of fire management was $420 million in the 1970s, $700 million in the 1990s, and up to $1.4 billion in the 2000s (Ingalsbee, 2010). This number is predicted to rise to $4 billion by 2030 due to a 40% increase in homes in the WUI area (Ingalsbee, 2010). It is very interesting to me why we continue to fund housing in WUI areas. While urban sprawl will continue to happen as our population grows, it seems that we are simply creating a new problem rather than solving one. Recent articles and studies have shown that the growth rate pushes 200% in many western states in WUI regions which will continue to increase suppression costs (Rogers, 2018).  Growth in WUI regions is also directly related to more wildfire ignitions, further increasing the cost of suppression (Radeloff et al, 2018).

Increasing costs of wildfire suppression are cause for concern. One of the more important sectors to address is expansion into WUI areas. Slowing growth into these areas will surely help lower the USFS suppression costs and allow them to divert resources to other areas.

Ingalsbee, Timothy. 2010. Getting Burned: a Taxpayer’s Guide to Wildfire Suppression Costs. Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics, and Ecology.

Radeloff, V. C., Helmers, D. P., Kramer, H. A., Mockrin, M. H., Alexandre, P. M., Bar-Massada, A., … Stewart, S. I. (2018). Rapid growth of the US wildland-urban interface raises    wildfire risk. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences115(13), 3314–3319. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1718850115

Rogers, A. (2018). Please Stop Building Houses Exactly Where Wildfires Start. Retrieved from   


USFS Fire Policy 1920-Present Day

Over time the various policies, ideas, and knowledge humans have about certain subjects’ changes. United States fire policy is no exception. Fire policy within the US has changed drastically from its first implementation in the 20th century. One of the leading characters in creating the initial US fire policy was William Greeley. Greeley was appointed chief of the USFS, United States Forest Service, and implemented a policy of total fire suppression (Forest History Society, nd). This new policy had two main goals. These were to prevent all forest fires and suppressing any fire that did appear as quickly as possible (Forest History Society, nd). Greeley’s reasoning behind this new policy was highlighted in his 1920s article titled “’Paiute Forestry’ or the fallacy of light burning.” In this article, Greeley calls for an end to light burning, claiming it is too risky and can cause large scale fires, ineffective in stopping large fires, and in general not worth the cost (Greeley, 2000). The risk, ineffectiveness, and cost all inspired his no tolerance fire policy of the 1920s.

After serious fires in the late 1920s and early 1930s, fire policy was further changed. After Roosevelt’s New Deal passed, the USFS acquired massive new landholdings and had a large increase in manpower (Donovan and Brown, 2005). With this increased manpower, the USFS felt they could better protect the nation’s forests. This confidence was demonstrated in the 1935 10 AM policy which aimed at containing any fire at 10 AM the day following the initial attack (Donovan and Brown, 2005). While the extreme fire suppression policies continued through the next few decades, serious change came in the 1960s and 1970s.

Starting in the 1960s, scientific research demonstrated how forest fires could have positive impacts on the local forest ecology (Forest History Society, nd). This new research coupled with shifting public opinions and increased scrutiny of the USFS as they were unable to prevent large forest fires with their current techniques led to serious change (Donovan and Brown, 2005). 1970s fire policy changed to allow fires to burn when appropriate (Forest History Society, nd). While this technique of allowing forest fires to burn was a new concept to the USFS, the National Park Service had been doing so for nearly 60 years.  

Today, the USFS has various new problems such as urban sprawl, increased expenses, and more powerful fires (Forest History Society, nd). While the techniques the USFS employs today may be drastically different than what Greeley described in the early 20th century, the main goal of sustaining a healthy and productive forest ecosystem remains the same.


Donovan, G.H. and Brown, T.C. (2005). Wildfire management in the US Forest Service: a brief history. Natural Hazards Observer. July, 3p.

Forest History Society. (n.d.). U.S. Forest Service Fire Suppression. Retrieved from

Greeley, W. (2000). “Paiute Forestry” or the fallacy of light burning. Fire Management Today, 60 (4), 21.