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Utah’s cost of fighting fires into the millions of dollars

Posted: 7:35 PM, Jun 25, 2012
Updated: 2012-06-26 02:27:26-04
Utah’s cost of fighting fires into the millions of dollars

SALT LAKE CITY -- Despite federal help, state officials say the cost for fighting wildfires will be well into the millions of dollars this season.

The Saratoga Springs-area Dump Fire is expected to cost $1.5 million, with most of it absorbed by Utah taxpayers, while the state recovers only a fraction of the cost.

According to the Utah Dept. of Natural Resources, even though the two target shooters admitted starting the wildfire, an investigation begins to determine if they did anything illegal or were negligent.

"Just one person saying 'I did it,' obviously that's pretty strong, but we have to have evidence -- we need a full investigation with witnesses, physical evidence and look at the entire package," said Jason Curry with Utah's office of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.

The land owner determines who pursues reimbursement. If it is private land, the owner can take those responsible to civil court. If it is public land, as is the case for most of the Dump Fire, the U.S. Attorney's Office may seek reimbursement, but that can take months, even years to get a result. And that is if the suspects are caught. Utah's has had more than 400 fires this year, with 385 human-caused.

Curry says that they catch the suspects in a human-caused fire only half of the time.

The land owner determines who pursues reimbursement. If it is private land, the owner can take those responsible to civil court. If it is public land, as is the case for most of the Dump Fire, the U.S. Attorney's Office may seek reimbursement, but that can take months, even years to get a result. And that is if the suspects are caught. Utah's has had more than 400 fires this year, with 385 human-caused.

Statistics from the U.S. Attorney's Office shows Utah recovered just over $10 million in five years. Curry says that is a fraction of what the firefighting costs are and sometimes the state has to settle for less because those responsible cannot afford to pay the millions, so the taxpayers have to pay in the end.