From 2002 to 2011, Washington spent an average of $27.1 million each year fighting wildfires. And each year, state lawmakers had to make emergency appropriations — an average of $15.6 million a year — to cover the costs.
A state-commissioned study released Monday identified ways the state can cut down on those extra payments and contain labor costs for fighting wildfires. The recommendations ranged from taking out a state wildfire insurance policy to budgeting more money for fire suppression upfront.
FCS Group, a Redmond-based management consulting firm, conducted the study for the Washington State Institute for Public Policy, the Legislature’s nonpartisan research agency.
To reduce the need for emergency appropriations, Washington should change how it budgets money for wildfire suppression, according to the report. It found that “the state appears to be budgeting based on the lowest fire years, but for most years, fire activity has been at a higher level as well as the state’s cost to fight those fires.”
So, instead of hoping — and budgeting — for the best, the state should set aside money for wildfire suppression based on the average cost of the preceding 10 years, FCS Group recommended in the report.
From 2002 to 2011, 20 fires — or just 0.3 percent of 5,775 fires reviewed — accounted for about 41 percent of the state’s wildfire costs, according to the report.
Washington could get insurance to cover firefighting costs in the worst years, FCS Group recommended.
Oregon has an insurance plan that covers up to $25 million in costs after the state has gone through its $25 million annual budget for fighting wildfires, according to the report.
But Oregon has not “saved a significant amount of money over the history of its insurance program,” the report states.
To control labor costs, the report recommends ways to ensure the state is hiring the most cost-efficient labor for fighting wildfires, such as regularly advertising for private vendors to submit bids for services related to wildfire suppression.
From 2002 to 2011, labor costs accounted for between 29 percent and 48 percent of what the state spent each year to put out wildfires, according to the study.
The Legislature is expected to study the report, but it was not immediately clear Monday if and when the report might be examined in a committee hearing.