California Wildfires Hit Taxpayers, Tourism
California Wildfires Hit Taxpayers, Tourism. The 2018 wildfires have devastated the state of California in more ways than one. Not only did the relentless fires claim the lives of dozens of people and destroyed thousands of homes, but the blazes have also affected the state’s colossal tourism industry while striking taxpayers hard.
According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), the state has wiped out nearly the entire emergency wildfire funds that were set aside for the fiscal year. Of the $443 million allocated, about $405 million was spent on fighting wildfires.
Meanwhile, tourism officials say startling images of the aggressive wildfires burning across the state have deterred visitors, especially those from other countries.
California Wildfires Hit Taxpayers
Cal Fire officials say the financial hardship started earlier than expected and way before what is considered peak fire season, and that means California will need to dip into its general $2 billion budget reserve. It is not the first time the state had to do so. In the past ten years, California has done it seven times.
The total cost to fight the massive, deadly Carr Fire, which burned through nearly 230,000 acres, destroyed over 1,000 homes and took the lives of eight individuals, is $152 million. Officials don’t have the total cost for the Mendocino Complex just yet. That number will likely exceed the Carr Fire. Consisting of the Ranch and River Fires, the Mendocino Complex is considered the largest fire in California history.
Additional Fire-Related Costs
Other costs that have put a damper on the wildfire funds include fire prevention programs and damages and personal losses. While many of the losses are handled by fire victim’s insurance companies, the state’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) will sometimes distribute funds for relief and recovery efforts of homeowners and businesses that suffered from these wildfires.
How are Emergency Funds Calculated?
The wildfire emergency funds are estimated based on what was spent in the five years prior. In 2017, California put aside almost $427 million for wildfires. However, the fires cost about $774 million. According to the state’s Department of Finance, the total cost was nearly $896 million with federal and local expenses. It is a considerable increase from ten years ago. In the 2007-2008 fiscal year, the wildfire emergency fund was about $82 million, and the total cost was $372 million.
The emergency fund is, however, separate from Cal Fire’s general budget, which covers daily operation and routine fire expenses. The federal government will usually cover about 70% of the cost in large fires such as the Mendocino Complex.
California Wildfires Hit Tourism
The fires are causing visitors to stay away from California. According to a recent study, 11% of people who were planning to travel to California have canceled their trips due to the fires. That cost the state as much as $20 million in July 2018.
One of the hardest hit areas is Yosemite Valley, which was closed for almost three weeks due to the Ferguson Fire. The fire, which started on July 13th, burned more than 96,000 acres and killed two firefighters. It reached 100% containment on August 19th. While the blaze did not reach Yosemite Valley, it did burn in remote areas in and around the park during the busiest camping season of the year. During the 20-day closure, visitor bureaus in the park and the nearby regions estimated a combined tourism loss of about $50 million.
According to the National Park Service, more than 600,000 people visit Yosemite Valley during a typical August month. The park has since reopened, but the toll the fire had on tourism is still felt.
Watch YouTube Video: Ferguson Fire Affecting Tourism in Mariposa. This news clip from CBS47 KSEE24 reports on how the Ferguson Fire is affecting tourism in Mariposa County.
I’m Ed Smith, a California Wildfire Lawyer. Rebuilding after losing everything in a wildfire can be a challenge. If you or a family member is a victim of one of these California wildfires, call me at (916) 921-6400 or (800) 404-5400. You can also contact me online.
I am a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum.
To find out how we’ve resolved some of our past cases, visit our Settlements and Verdicts page.
Photo by Aaron Barnaby, Luke Flynt, Marcus Kauffman on Unsplash; pixabay.com on pexels
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