Texplainer: What Does It Cost to Fight Texas Wildfires?

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Wildfire rages along a mountaintop outside of Alpine early in the morning of April 10, 2011
Wildfire rages along a mountaintop outside of Alpine early in the morning of April 10, 2011

Hey, Texplainer: How much is it costing to fight the Texas wildfires, and who's going to pay?

So far, the estimated cost for fighting the wildfires is $49.2 million for this fiscal year, according to Robby DeWitt, a finance official with the Texas Forest Service, the state's lead wildfire response agency. In recent weeks, as the fires have gotten worse, costs have mounted at a rate of over $1 million per day.

Those costs will be shared among the state, local and federal governments, with the state likely to pay the bulk of the cost. In February, the Texas Forest Service asked the Legislature for an emergency appropriation for costs incurred since last session, and it has since been sending updated figures to the Legislative Budget Board each week as the fires continue. Also, "since we have no idea when the fires will end or what the final cost will be, we anticipate that there will be costs incurred for which we will seek an emergency appropriation during the next legislative session," DeWitt says.

Texas will also seek reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA could provide about 25 percent of the total costs, in DeWitt's rough estimate. However, that number could rise if President Barack Obama issues a "presidential declaration" of disaster, which would allow FEMA to provide reimbursements for up to 75 percent of some costs accrued by state and local governments. Gov. Rick Perry recently requested a formal disaster declaration in a letter to Obama, but so far it has not been made.

Separately, the cost of damaged property is also high, reaching about $150 million so far from the wildfires, according to the Insurance Council of Texas.

Bottom line: Recently, as the wildfires have worsened, the cost of fighting them has mounted at a rate of over $1 million per day. The state can expect to pay the majority, though local governments and the feds will also pay a share.

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