The Cost of Fire

Catastrophic wildfires have become a fact of life in the West—and they threaten not just the lives and homes of humans, but the health of the planet. We take a deep dive into the numbers behind wildfire and how to manage it.

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es, Colorado may be boasting a near-record snowpack this season, but that doesn’t mean wildfires aren’t going to be a concern for our state, which historically dries out quickly during summer. Here’s the good news: According to the National Interagency Fire Center, which publishes the “National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook” report, large portions of Colorado will carry below normal fire potential at least until August. But as wildfire season approaches, it’s key to remember how devastating a blaze can be, especially along the wildland-urban interface, which in our state houses some 2.9 million residents. Here are the numbers on recent fires, fire destruction, and the federal government’s fiscal and physical commitment to fighting them. Read them with a little relief—and keep your fingers crossed for a safe summer—but withhold a steady dose of caution. Any fire could bloom into a big one, and in the wrong corridor in Colorado, that could be catastrophic.


Percent U.S. wildfires have increased since 1970 (according to The Balance, a US economy and investing website)


Months longer, annually, that fire season lasts since that same year, according to, a website that tracks current, historical and predicted weather and climate change data.

250 million

Metric tons of carbon U.S. forests sucked up in 2010. That’s important to know, because wildfires can turn forests from carbon sinks into sources of emissions by releasing stored carbon into the atmosphere. According to WXshift, that’s already happening in California.

4.5 million

Number of U.S. homes, according to Verisk’s “2017 Wildfire Risk Analysis,” that were identified at high or or extreme risk of wildfire, with more than 2 million in California alone.

Top 10 Most Wildfire Prone States, 2017: California, Texas, Colorado, Arizona, Idaho, Washington, Oklahoma, Oregon, Utah and Montana.


Number of wildfires in Colorado in 2018 (with 475,803 acres burned)


Percent increase of Coloradans living in areas consider at risk of wildland fire between 2012 and 2018, according to a 2018 Colorado State Forest Service report. In hard numbers, that’s an increase from 2 million to 2.9 million living in at-risk areas.

347, 259 and 51

Numbers, respectively, of houses burned by wildfire in Colorado’s 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire, 2012 High Park Fire and 2013 Black Forest Fire.

$85 million

Amount of damage caused to homes in the Black Forest Fire


Percent of wildfires caused by humans.


Times lightning strikes Earth every day.

10 to 20

Percent of lightning strikes that can cause fire.


Number of wildfires across the U.S., January 1 to April 5, 2018, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. During the same period this year, the number fell dramatically to 7,091. About 432,420 acres were burned in the 2018 period compared to 171,207 in 2019.


Number of wildfires that have burned in the U.S. between January 1 and May 3, 2019

6 times

Metric by which the average wildfire size is expected to grow by 2039 (the year my 7-year-old turns 27).

$2 billion

Cost of wildland fire suppression in 2017.

$2.4 billion

Cost of the same in 2018 .

5.7 percent

Amount by which Preseident Trump wants to cut U.S. Forest Service staff years (i.e. annual jobs). Thankfully, this does not include wildland fire personnel: the 67 Interagency Hotshot Crews, 7,940 other firefighters, 320 Smokejumpers, and 400 Fire Prevention Technicians who put out our nation’s wildland flames.

$118.3 million of 12 percent

Amount President Trump wanted to cut from the Department of Interior’s discretionary department-wide Wildland Fire Management program, amounting to a total of $873.5 million in 2018.


Amount the President proposed for DOI’s Wildland Fire Management in fiscal year 2020


States from Alaska to Florida reporting “large” wildfires on May 3, 2019.


Wildfire incidents that required state responsibility in Colorado in 2018.

$40 million

Price tag for containing and cleaning up those 18 large fires.


Number of full-time firefighters the Colorado Department of Fire Prevention and Control has ready to deploy at any moment .


Number of non-prescribed fires burning in Colorado on May 7, 2019.


Percent chance we can count on of not having a sizable fire this summer.

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