Two decades ago, the cost of fighting fires only consumed about 15% of the Forest Service’s budget. But increased development in and around undeveloped open spaces, along with, paradoxically, decades of fire suppression, mean that wildfires are growing larger, more intense and more dangerous to communities. Many scientists believe the warming climate is exacerbating the situation.
As the cost of firefighting has gone up, the Forest Service budget has stayed relatively flat. The result is that fire suppression now consumes 55% of the agency’s annual budget, and some officials estimate that could grow to two-thirds in a few years.