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Wednesday, October 21, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Oregon wildfires have cost taxpayers more than $100 million

A tree explodes into flames as the wind whips up the southern front of a wildfire as it burns near Sisters, Ore., Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017. (Andy Tullis / The Bulletin)
A tree explodes into flames as the wind whips up the southern front of a wildfire as it burns near Sisters, Ore., Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017. (Andy Tullis / The Bulletin)
Associated Press

LOWELL, Ore. – Oregon wildfires already have burned nearly 500 square miles this year, as one of the state’s many multimillion-dollar forest fires this season smolders and flares away.

The blaze, started by lightning in the Willamette National Forest, is close to Eugene and just up the road from Lowell.

The fire was too dangerous to squelch when it blew up on Aug. 12, sending up a 25,000-foot-high column of smoke, The Register-Guard reported.

Nearly a dozen large wildfires are burning in Oregon this summer, a fire season marked by extremely hot and dry weather.

The large fires in Oregon have cost the state and federal agencies a combined $100 million to fight so far, Northwest Interagency Coordination Center spokesman Brian Ballou said.

Taxpayer money covers the costs of fighting wildfires, with the funds coming from local, state and federal coffers. Which agency pays the bill depends on which agency oversees the burned lands. The Forest Service manages national forests, home to the bulk of the fires burning this year in Oregon, and the state Department of Forestry protects state-owned forests, private timberland and federal Bureau of Land Management land west of the Cascades.

Costs for crews and equipment can vary, but Ballou, with the coordinating center in Portland, offered some numbers. A 20-person handcrew costs state and federal agencies about $10,000 per day. An average helicopter costs about $6,000 per day to have available and $1,800 per hour to have fly. And a typical load of fire retardant dropped from an air tanker costs about $20,000.

This fire season has seen a rapid acceleration of wildfire in Oregon, said Nick Cronquist, spokesman for the team fighting the latest Oregon wildfire.

“There is fire up and down the Cascades,” Cronquist said. “And the weather is just not cooperating for fighting fires.”

It has been particularly hot and dry this year in the mountains and foothills east of Eugene.

An early August heat wave set record highs of 102 on Aug. 2 and 3 at the National Weather Service station at the Eugene Airport.

At the airport station, the average high for this month through Aug. 25 is 86.7, compared with a normal average of just under 83. In a normal August, the airport receives more than half an inch of rain. This August so far: 0.14 inches.

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