On September 17, an arsonist is suspected of setting six fires along a remote one-mile stretch of gravel road near the Soup Springs campground on the edge of the Modoc’s South Warner Wilderness. Four of the fires were contained promptly at less than a half-acre each and a fifth was held to less than 300 acres after a couple of days. The sixth, called “Soup 2,” escaped initial attack. Blown by westerly prevailing winds, it moved uphill to the sparsely-vegetated wilderness where, over the course of a week, it burned about 2,200 acres.
From their outset, these ignitions threatened one “uninhabited structure.” Details regarding the structure are unknown. But, of one thing I’m confident, it’s not worth the $5.4 million spent fighting this fire.
On day 2, for example, over 900 firefighters were assigned to the fire as it burned largely, and appropriately, unchecked into the wilderness. On day 3 alone, the Forest Service spent $909,655!
Why spend so much money watching a fire burn into the wilderness, with nothing of consequence threatened and season-ending rain in the forecast? One explanation might be the $2.3 million in “indirect” costs the Modoc national forest is allowed to charge to the fire. With the fiscal year about to expire at the end of September, every national forest has an incentive to spend as much as possible against the agency’s $1.6 billion wildfire suppression account. Which may help explain how the Forest Service managed to spend its largest fire appropriation in history during a decidedly uneventful national forest fire season.