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Fire Debris Forces State To Draw From Emergency Reserve

Bob Moffitt / Capital Public Radio

Cal Fire says the Butte Fire burned 475 residences, 343 outbuildings and 45 other structures.

Bob Moffitt / Capital Public Radio

California has run up big bills fighting – and cleaning up after – wildfires this year. The state expected to spend a lot of money fighting the fires, but the high cleanup costs came as a surprise.

It’s common practice for California’s governor and Legislature to budget money to fight wildfires – a line-item that’s grown larger in recent years.

But the state did not set aside any money to clean up after the fires – and last week, it shifted more money from its emergency reserve to debris clean-up for a total of $55 million. The cost could eventually top $100 million.

“If you’re looking at the Valley Fire, that’s more than 1,000 sites that have been damaged. In the Butte Fire, another 650 on top of that,“ says H.D. Palmer with the governor’s Department of Finance. And the cost of cleaning up each of those lots ranges anywhere from $60,000 to $75,000 per lot.”

Palmer says the damages that are unique, ”and similar to the reason that we have a large budget reserve in the event of a natural disaster like an earthquake, we have a large budget reserve in the event that we see the kind of damages from these type of catastrophic fires.”

The state is also burning through its regular firefighting budget. Just four months into the fiscal year that began in July, California has already spent more than 90 percent of the nearly $400 million budgeted for fire suppression.

Ben Adler

Capitol Bureau Chief

Capitol Bureau Chief Ben Adler first became a public radio listener in the car on his way to preschool – though not necessarily by choice. Now, he leads Capital Public Radio’s state Capitol coverage, which airs on NPR stations across California.  Read Full Bio