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Smaller Wildfires Bring Larger Cost To Idaho Taxpayers

File photo from the 2014 Elk Complex Fire that raged southeast of Boise.

Idaho lawmakers had a bit of sticker shock Friday over the state’s firefighting costs.

Legislators will have to make room in the budget this year for $17.5 million from the 2013 fire season. There’s always a delay in paying the bill because the fire season spans two fiscal years.

Lawmakers also got a taste of next year’s tab: The 2014 fire season is expected to cost the state more than $27 million -- almost three times the 10-year average.

It turns out with firefighting -- just like in in real estate -- it’s all about location. Fighting fires near homes takes a lot of equipment, manpower and money.

Idaho Department of Lands Director Tom Schultz told lawmakers the cost also depends on whether the state is the one responsible for the land.

“For the most part people looked at this last fire season as a fairly light fire season statewide,” Schultz said. “But as it related to state responsibility, it was a very large fire season for the state of Idaho.”

The costs from 2013 were incurred from firefighting operations on only 7,200 acres of land. In 2014, the state was responsible for fires on 80,400 acres.

The firefighting costs come out of the same pot that funds education, health and human services and public safety.