West Fire, Tehachapi Fire and others spur state of emergency


Wildfires in California are costing a bundle to fight. Image: Flickr/ Rennett Stowe

In Sacramento this morning, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in Kern County. The Tehachapi fire, which is officially known as the West Fire, is 25 percent contained. The Bull Fire is only 5 percent contained. The State of Emergency allows cash-strapped California to spend money on firefighters and containment.

About the Tehachapi Fire

The Tehahapi Fire, centered in a small community 10 miles south of Tehachapi, started on Tuesday. Residents of the Old West Ranch were evacuated after the blaze started. The fire has been officially named the West Fire, after the ranch that was split up to form the community. Residents who were cutting scrap metal with a grinder in dry grass started the fire. At least 40 homes have been burned, and about 1,400 acres have been scorched. Approximately 150 other homes are threatened.

About the Bull Fire

The Bull Fire, centered north of Kernville, Calif., is currently burning almost 16,000 acres. Eight homes and six outbuildings burned in just the first day of the fire. Two firefighters have already been injured while fighting this fire. The cause of the Bull Fire has yet to be determined, and it is only about 5 percent contained.

The cost of fighting wildfires

In budget-strapped California, fighting wildfire is an incredibly expensive proposition. Not only the human cost of possible firefighter deaths, but the financial cost. Fighting a big fire can cost anywhere from $1 million to $2.5 million a day. An “average” wildfire fighting year for the U.S. Forest Service costs $500 million or more. The cost of fighting wildfires in California falls to several agencies. The majority of the cost is carried by the California state budget. This is just the cost of fighting the fire — never mind the damages to property and land. The State of Emergency means that California can spend the money before they actually know where the money is coming from.

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