The High Cost Of Battling A Blaze

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In just three weeks, the cost of the Willow Fire grew from about $350,000 to $10 million.

As fire crews continue to roll down the street, an obvious question arises: Where is this money coming from, and where does it go?

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As fire crews continue to roll down the street, an obvious question arises: Where is this money coming from, and where does it go?

"This is a federal fire," said John Philbin, the Incident Commander at the Willow Fire. Thus, it is funded with federal money.

The U.S. Forest Service is in the Department of Agriculture, which receives a large chunk of money from Congress each year. The annual fund is based on a 10-year average, and currently totals about $700 million.

While the money is available, the crews still try to cut costs.

Only the required number of crews is called up.

"If we need six water tenders and we have eight water tenders, we release the most expensive costs," Philbin said.

The firefighters also stay at campgrounds instead of bunking in hotels. They shower in mobile shower units and eat on-site under a large white tent.

Which isn't to say they eat poorly. Tuesday night's menu included cheesecake with blackberry sauce.

The camps also have a city of support staff, including computer specialists, financial officers, supply managers and information officers.

In fact, camp support makes up about 15 percent of the costs.

Aircraft costs the most, taking 31 percent of the costs.

Equipment, personnel and crews follow, each taking close to 15 percent.

Supplies cost the least, taking 7 percent of the costs.

An average hotshot crew member makes about $390 per day, and works for 14 days. That totals $5,460.

"They earn every penny of it," said Ann Bastion, Finance Section Chief at the Willow Fire. "We do not get credit for any of this. We're just here to manage the paper work."

Bastion said that management personnel have to be on their toes.

"We can go into an incident, and the area can be bare, and in 24 hours it looks like a city," she said. "It runs real smooth."

After the operations are in place, most staffers work 16 hours a day, although the first shift is usually 24 hours long.

"You have to be a little crazy to do it," Bastion said.

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