Why is there still no measurement of the impact of forest fires?

The threat of the Caldor fire in South Lake Tahoe (California) did not burn an inch of the American city, but it did heat up the atmosphere among the population. The smoke only covered the city, but it cost El Dorado County tens of millions of dollars, maybe more.

Knowing the true cost and impact of forest fires could become a very beneficial action for both the government and the private sector, if costs are monitored systematically over several years, responsible politicians can study the strategies of prevention and mitigation of the impact of the most profitable forest fires in each case.

However, today California does not have clear information on the impact of wildfires in the area. The costs of business interruption, damage to homes, damage to the ecosystem or impacts on the health of the population by smoke are some of the problems that are not being tracked.

“There is no systematic monitoring effort in the State to calculate costs, with the existing data it is really impossible to arrive at a number” 

Teresa Feo

The impact of wildfires: the different costs

Tom Harris, an economist at the University of Nevada, was the one who conducted the initial analysis of the economic impact of the Caldor fire. Approximately, it estimates losses close to $ 93 million, not including losses in sectors such as rental housing or health care.

However, the state does not continuously track deaths and health conditions affected by smoke exposure, the last ones being the largest costs. A study conducted by researchers and academics from the public health department inquired about the fall 2007 medical services in San Diego and they were revealing results, since a peak of visits to the emergency room, asthma and respiratory conditions was found during the fire period, being most affected children aged four and under.

Why is there still no measurement of the impact of forest fires? 1

Different approaches to the impact of wildfires

The present approach to evaluating the impact of forest fires is a mixture of investigations that analyze the different aspects without being directed by any agency oriented to it.

Only university monitoring of the cost and impact of wildfires can be used.

For example, in 2020 an investigation was conducted to assess the nationwide effect of the California wildfires in 2018, which clarified that the economic damage nearly reached $ 150 million. Another study, conducted by Adam Rose and published in Nature Sustainability, broke down the direct capital costs and indirect losses, exceeding these of any other disaster in the United States, comparing it to Hurricane Katrina, the coronavirus pandemic, or the terrorist attacks of the September 11th, 2001.

Why is there still no measurement of the impact of forest fires? 2

In this same study, Rose details that it is necessary to study and apply a nationally homogenized and standardized methodology to assess the total cost and impact of forest fires on a regular and continuous basis, being able to be implemented immediately or relatively quickly, in instead of waiting several years after the fire.

This would have enormous positive consequences, as it would allow a multitude of investigations to be carried out and help scholars to track all kinds of costs related to the impact of forest fires.

In this way, the efforts put into the findings would be of benefit, since they would be comparable with subsequent catastrophes, in addition to helping to create efficient policies for each circumstance, promote actions aimed at the private sector in reinforcing fire prevention or organizing health care in future disasters.

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