After wildfires, California communities struggle with budgets

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

California is a wildfire hot spot: each year, homes, businesses, and ecosystems are destroyed by fires exacerbated by climate change. But even after the blazes subside, wildfires can still threaten community wellbeing. A new paper by scholars Yanjun (Penny) Liao and Carolyn Kousky, published in the Journal of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists (JAERE), finds that wildfires increase both revenues and expenditures in California municipalities, but that the combined effect is a budget shortfall over many years.

“The effects of wildfires tend to be highly localized,” Liao, coauthor and fellow at Resources for the Future (RFF), said. “There’s a striking gap in the literature on how wildfires affect local government budgets. If we want communities to support residents after a disaster, we need to consider the fiscal impacts that these disasters cause in the first place, and where they may need help in the future.”

Using GIS data from the California Fire and Resource Assessment Program and from the State Controller’s Office, Liao and Kousky surveyed revenues and expenditures for California municipalities between 1990 and 2015. They focused specifically on wildfires that affected at least 10 percent of residents—a notable parameter since most fires burn in wildlands with low population density. They examined each community for up to five years post-fire to understand the fiscal implications of such a disaster in the long term. To make comparisons, the authors compared an affected municipality with a similar one that would be affected later in the study timeframe.

Liao and Kousky came to the following conclusions:

  • A municipality’s total general revenues increased by 10.5 percent on average in the five years following a fire. Specifically, real property transfer taxes and property taxes increased due to a unique aspect of California property law. Sales taxes also increased, likely due to spending on rebuilding.
  • Functional revenue—which is collected for specific purposes through special taxes—increased 12.6 percent on average starting from the second year post-wildfire. Functional revenue needs to be voted upon, which likely explains the time lag.
  • Total expenditures increased by an average of 17.3 percent in the five years following a wildfire. Most were spent on public safety measures, community development, and transportation. Notably, investments in community development and public safety were persistently high over the five-year timeframe, which suggests a long frame of recovery. Investments in safety involved significant expenditures on fire and disaster preparedness.
  • The overall impact on municipal budgets was negative. Communities hurt by wildfires saw a 25-percentage-point increase in the probability of a budget deficit and saw a net decrease in excess revenues of $97 per capita, equivalent to 10.7 percent of the total budget size.

Interestingly, California’s increase in property taxes (an average of 21.2 percent over five years) may be unique to the state. Proposition 13, a constitutional amendment passed in 1978, limits property assessments to when a home is built or sold. Because wildfires lead to a turnover in housing—further exemplified by an observed 57 percent increase in real property transfer tax—there is a boom in housing reassessments in a state where housing prices have skyrocketed in recent years.

“The presence of this unique constitutional amendment indicates that negative fiscal impacts of wildfires may be more pronounced outside of California, since higher property taxes represent one of the main sources of higher revenues for communities,” said Kousky, RFF university fellow and executive director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Risk Management and Decision Processes Center. “But even with these higher , California municipalities still suffered.”

Kousky and Liao noted that because the often takes on a significant amount of the expense of managing wildfires, many communities are insulated from the initial monetary fallout of a wildfire. But once the flames are extinguished, municipalities are often left to pick up the pieces with significantly less federal support.

Most of the wildfires recorded in the study were of moderate strength, but the state has seen more severe fires in recent years. In 2017 and 2018—years that were not included in this study—California experienced some of the deadliest and most destructive seasons on record.

“The climate is changing, and wildfires are getting worse,” Liao said. “Communities will need to adapt with the times—hopefully our new paper can help pinpoint where some of those changes need to be made.”



More information:
Yanjun (Penny) Liao et al, The Fiscal Impacts of Wildfires on California Municipalities, Journal of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists (2021). DOI: 10.1086/717492

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Northwest heat wave and bad air from wildfires pose danger thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Northwest heat wave and bad air from wildfires pose danger

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Chad Messenger collects cooling supplies including bottled water donated by the Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare’s street outreach team on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021, in Portland, Ore. Credit: AP Photo/Nathan Howard

Temperatures were expected to soar to triple digits again Friday in Portland, Oregon, and Seattle as a heat wave bakes the Pacific Northwest, and forecasters said hot weather and wildfire smoke would pose a problem through the weekend.

An air quality alert was issued through Saturday night for much northwestern Washington because of smoke drifting in from blazes in British Columbia and eastern Washington. However, forecasters said the hazy sky could drop temperatures slightly lower than predicted Friday and Saturday.

Temperatures reached 103 F (39 C) on Thursday in Portland and the 90s in Seattle. In Bellingham, Washington, the high hit 100 F (38 C) for the first time on record. It’s the second major heat wave in less than a month in a normally temperate region where many don’t have air conditioning. Record-breaking in late June caused hundreds of deaths in Washington state, Oregon and British Columbia when the thermometer went as high as 116 F (47 C).

A detailed scientific analysis found the June heat was virtually impossible without human-caused climate change. Meteorologist Jeff Masters with Yale Climate Connections said a similar study would need to be done with other heat waves, but there’s a general link between global warming and worsening .

Scott Zalitis carries freezer pops and water provided by Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare’s street outreach team on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021, in Portland, Ore. People have headed to cooling centers as the Pacific Northwest began sweltering under another major, multiday heat wave. Credit: AP Photo/Nathan Howard

“If you increase your baseline temperature, you great increase your odds of extreme heat events,” said Masters, co-founder of the private Weather Underground company.

Much of the Northwest was under an excessive heat warning through Saturday. The National Weather Service said heat advisories and warnings were also in effect from the Midwest to the Northeast and mid-Atlantic through at least Friday.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has declared a state of emergency and activated an emergency operations center. City and county governments have opened cooling centers, extended public library hours and waived bus fare for those headed to cooling centers. A 24-hour statewide help line will direct callers to the nearest cooling shelter and offer safety tips.

Authorities scrambled to provide relief to the vulnerable, including low-income older people and those living outdoors. Oregon volunteers handed out water, portable fans, popsicles and information about cooling shelters to living in encampments along the Columbia River on the outskirts of Portland.

  • Darlene McApline, an administrative coordinator with Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare’s street outreach team, dumps a bottle of water on her head to cool off while loading supplies on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021, in Portland, Ore. Credit: AP Photo/Nathan Howard
  • Katherine Morgan wipes sweat from her forehead while walking to work in high temperatures on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021, in Portland, Ore. People have headed to cooling centers as the Pacific Northwest began sweltering under another major, multiday heat wave. Credit: AP Photo/Nathan Howard
  • Vivek Shandas, a professor of climate adaptation at Portland State University, takes a temperature reading of almost 106 degrees in downtown Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021, in Portland, Ore. People have headed to cooling centers as the Pacific Northwest began sweltering under another major, multiday heat wave. Credit: AP Photo/Nathan Howard
  • Chris Cowan with Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare’s street outreach team loads water and other cooling supplies before visiting homeless camps on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021, in Portland, Ore. Credit: AP Photo/Nathan Howard
  • A woman living along the Columbia River who declined to be named, drinks a bottle of water delivered by Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare’s street outreach team on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021, in Portland, Ore. Credit: AP Photo/Nathan Howard
  • Katherine Morgan drinks water in front of a box fan while trying to stay cool in her downtown apartment without air conditioning on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021, in Portland, Ore. People have headed to cooling centers as the Pacific Northwest began sweltering under another major, multiday heat wave. Credit: AP Photo/Nathan Howard
  • Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare’s street outreach team loads water and other cooling supplies before visiting homeless camps on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021, in Portland, Ore. Credit: AP Photo/Nathan Howard
  • Katherine Morgan drinks water in front of a box fan while trying to stay cool in her downtown apartment without air conditioning on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021, in Portland, Ore. People have headed to cooling centers as the Pacific Northwest began sweltering under another major, multiday heat wave. Credit: AP Photo/Nathan Howard
  • A fan at T-Mobile Park adjusts a cloth on his head during a sunny day baseball game between the Seattle Mariners and the Texas Rangers, Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021, in Seattle. The usually temperate Pacific Northwest region entered the peak days of a scorching heat wave Thursday. Credit: AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
  • A fan at T-Mobile Park keeps cool with a portable fan during a sunny day baseball game between the Seattle Mariners and the Texas Rangers, Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021, in Seattle. The usually temperate Pacific Northwest region entered the peak days of a scorching heat wave Thursday. Credit: AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

People experiencing homelessness are often reluctant to go to cooling centers, said Kim James, director of homeless and housing support for Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare, a nonprofit group that serves the homeless and those with mental illness.

Scott Zalitis, who was shirtless in the heat, ate lime-green popsicles handed out by the group Thursday and told volunteers that the temperature at his campsite reached 105 F (41 C) the day before.

“It’s miserable. I can’t handle the no matter what. So, I mean, it’s hard to stand. Even in the shade it’s too hot,” Zalitis said. “You want to stay somewhere that’s cool, as cool as possible.”

The encampment, where rusted-out cars and broken-down RVs mixed with tents and piles of garbage, was in sharp contrast to downtown Portland, where sweaty pedestrians cooled off by running through a large public fountain in a riverfront park.



© 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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Northwest heat wave and bad air from wildfires pose danger (2021, August 13)
retrieved 14 August 2021
from https://phys.org/news/2021-08-northwest-bad-air-wildfires-pose.html

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Deadly wildfires reach Turkish power plant thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Deadly wildfires reach Turkish power plant

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The mayor of Milas said the staff had been evacuated from the power plant.

A thermal power plant on the Aegean Sea was evacuated on Wednesday as a deadly wildfire that has ravaged Turkey for the past week reached its outer edge.

An AFP team saw firefighters and police fleeing the plant near the hillside town of Milas, while orange flames lapped at the station’s gate as night fell.

“The plant is now being completely emptied,” the mayor of Milas, Muhammet Tokat tweeted.

Earlier, local officials said hydrogen tanks used to cool the station had been emptied and filled with water as a precaution.

Officials told AFP that the plant operates using coal and fuel oil. It was still believed to be hooked up to Turkey’s energy grid when the fire reached its gates.

More than 180 wildfires have scorched huge swathes of forest and killed eight people since breaking out east of the Mediterranean vacation hotspot Antalya last Wednesday, then spreading west.

The European Union’s satellite monitoring service said their “radiative power”—a measure of the fires’ intensity—”has reached unprecedented values in the entire dataset, which goes back to 2003”.

‘No room for politics’

The fires’ strength and scale have exposed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to days of criticism for what some observers say has been his sluggish response to the crisis.

Officials say the plant operates using coal and fuel oil.

Erdogan had just begun a live television interview about the fires as news broke about the evacuation of the plant.

He acknowledged that the efforts of firefighters to save the station were failing in the face of “tremendous wind” fanning the flames.

An AFP team confirmed that strong gusts of wind were spreading the flames, meaning flashpoints were reappearing in places where the fires had been put out only hours earlier.

Erdogan lashed out at Turkey’s opposition leaders for trying to score political points by questioning his governments’ readiness and response.

Other countries besides Turkey were having similar forest fire problems as a record heatwave grips Europe’s southeast, he argued.

Turkey’s neighbour Greece is also being ravaged by flames, which officials blame on a heatwave caused by .

Residents are helping fire crews fight the wildfires.

“Forest fires are an international threat just like the Covid-19 pandemic,” Erdogan said.

“Like elsewhere in the world, there has been a big increase in the forest fires in our country. There should be no room for politics here.”

Rattled

The Turkish government appears to have been rattled by the scale and ferocity of the flames.

Its media watchdog on Tuesday warned broadcasters that they might be fined if they continue showing live footage of the blazes or air images of screaming people running for their lives.

Most rolling news channels were only showing sporadic reports about the unfolding disaster on Wednesday afternoon.

Erdogan himself has been subjected to days of ridicule on social media after he tossed bags of tea to crowds of people while touring one of the affected regions under heavy police escort.

The opposition has also accused the powerful Turkish leader of being too slow to accept offers of foreign assistance—including from regional rival Greece—and for having failed to properly maintain firefighting planes.

‘Be patient’

Erdogan’s office blamed the very first blazes near Antalya on arsonists, which pro-government media linked to banned Kurdish militants waging a decades-long insurgency against the state.

But more and more public officials now link them to an extreme heatwave that has dried up reservoirs and created tinderbox conditions across much of Turkey’s south.

Experts have warned that climate change in countries such as Turkey increases both the frequency and intensity of wildfires.

Turkey’s Agriculture and Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said temperatures in the Aegean city of Marmaris reached an all-time record of 45.5 degrees Celsius (114 degrees Farenheit) this week.

“We are fighting a very serious war,” the minister told reporters. “I urge everyone to be patient.”



© 2021 AFP

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Deadly wildfires reach Turkish power plant (2021, August 4)
retrieved 5 August 2021
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Hexbyte Glen Cove 'Extreme' wildfires and heavy smoke grip western US and Canada thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove ‘Extreme’ wildfires and heavy smoke grip western US and Canada

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Firefighters have been dispatched from as far away as San Francisco to tackle the massive Oregon blaze.

A brutal start to the wildfire season in the western United States and Canada worsened Thursday as a massive Oregon blaze exploded in dry, windy conditions and a new California blaze threatened communities devastated by the 2018 Camp Fire.

Wildfire officials raised their preparedness level to the highest tier—the earliest such move in a decade—and Canada’s military joined evacuation efforts, as the region reels from the effects of consecutive heat waves that experts say have been worsened by .

“This fire is going to continue to grow—the extremely dry vegetation and weather are not in our favor,” said Joe Hessel, who is leading a team tackling Oregon’s 227,000-acre Bootleg Fire.

Burning through the equivalent of 130,000 soccer fields, the Bootleg Fire some 250 miles south of Portland is the largest active blaze in the US, bellowing heavy smoke visible from space that is blanketing parts of neighboring Washington and Idaho.

Firefighters have been dispatched from as far away as San Francisco to tackle the massive blaze, which is showing “extreme” growth through drought-affected brush and due to hot, dry and breezy conditions.

It began more than a week ago and is just seven percent contained, having destroyed 21 homes and threatening almost 2,000 more.

The inferno is just one of around 70 burning some one million acres (400,000 hectares) in the US alone.

The Bootleg Fire some 250 miles south of Portland is the largest active blaze in the US.

‘Deja vu’

The governor of the northwestern state of Montana on Wednesday declared a statewide wildland fire emergency.

And in California, the newly ignited Dixie Fire began ripping through land near the town of Paradise which was razed by the notorious 2018 Camp Fire—the deadliest in the state’s modern history, killing 86 people.

“The fire started just a couple of miles [away], on the same road, as the Camp Fire in 2018,” David Little of the North Valley Community Foundation, set up to help Camp Fire victims, told the Los Angeles Times.

“It’s really a sense of deja vu that’s uneasy.”

The Dixie Fire doubled in size overnight and was zero percent contained, but was moving away from populated areas such as Paradise.

Elsewhere in California the much larger Beckwourth Complex—a combination of two blazes sparked by lightning last week—neared 100,000 acres Thursday.

Last year was the worst in California’s by acres burnt, but 2021 is currently outpacing even that record destruction. The season is starting earlier and ending later each year, while much of the state is in the grip of a severe multi-year drought.

In Canada, the armed forces are now participating in wildfire evacuations in British Columbia for the first time since the fires began, a military source told AFP.

Air quality alerts have been issued in many parts of British Columbia due to smoke from forest fires.

As of Thursday afternoon, the province had 309 fires, 23 of which started in the last two days.

Scientists say heat waves arriving in the western US and Canada in late June would have been “virtually impossible” without human-caused climate change.

Human activity has driven global temperatures up, stoking increasingly fierce storms, extreme heat waves, droughts and wildfires.



© 2021 AFP

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‘Extreme’ wildfires and heavy smoke grip western US and Canada (2021, July 15)
retrieved 16 July 2021
from https://phys.org/news/2021-07-extreme-wildfires-heavy-western-canada.html

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Hexbyte Glen Cove California's 2018 wildfires caused $150 billion in damages: study thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove California’s 2018 wildfires caused $150 billion in damages: study

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Credit: CC0 Public Domain

In 2018, California wildfires caused economic losses of nearly $150 billion, or about 0.7 percent of the gross domestic product of the entire United States that year, and a considerable fraction of those costs affected people far from the fires and even outside of the Golden State.

For a study to be published Monday, Dec. 7, in Nature Sustainability, researchers at the University of California, Irvine, China’s Tsinghua University and other institutions combined physical, epidemiological and to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the impact of the blazes. More than 8,500 separate fires burned 1.9 million acres, making them the deadliest and most destructive in any year in California history.

Tallying the damage, the team found that direct capital impact (burned buildings and homes) accounted for $27.7 billion, 19 percent of the total; $32.2 billion, 22 percent of the whole, came from health effects of air pollution; and $88.6 billion in losses, 59 percent, was indirectly caused by the disruption of economic supply chains, including impediments to transportation and labor.

“When insurance companies, policy makers and even the media assess damage from California’s wildfires, they focus on loss of life and direct destruction of physical infrastructure, which, while important, are not the whole picture,” said co-author Steve Davis, UCI professor of Earth system science. “We tried to take a more holistic approach for this project by including a number of other factors such as the ill effects on the health of people living far away and the disruption of supply chains.”

Climate change, land and , population and economic growth, and increasing community encroachment in the have combined to increase the frequency and severity of wildfires in the Western United States over the past few decades, culminating in enormously damaging blazes in 2017, 2018 and 2020.

As the fires burned, showed trails of smoke spanning large areas of California, causing hazardous breathing conditions for residents of communities hundreds of miles from the burning fires.

Power transmission was affected by the fires, as was freight transport by rail and trucks, pipeline operations and many other business and infrastructure-dependent activities. The study showed that the majority of economic impacts were felt by industries and locations also far from the actual fires, and that nearly one-third of the total losses were outside of California.

“The broader impacts of these climate-driven wildfires are not only bigger than prior studies have estimated, but also more widely dispersed—including sizable impacts outside of the state,” lead author Dabo Guan, a Tsinghua University professor of Earth system science who is also a University College London researcher.

Davis said he hopes the study can help and fire managers make more sound decisions in the future about land and forest management, development patterns and fire suppression efforts. For example, the larger estimated costs may justify larger and different allocations of resources to fire prevention and suppression.

In particular, the authors suggest that disaster response teams may wish to focus “ prevention efforts on areas typically upwind of major population centers or near important industrial or transportation infrastructure.”



More information:
Economic footprint of California wildfires in 2018 , Nature Sustainability (2020). DOI: 10.1038/s41893-020-00646-7 , www.nature.com/articles/s41893-020-00646-7

Citation:
California’s 2018 wildfires caused $150 billion in damages: study (2020, December 7)
retrieved 8 December 2020
from https://phys.org/news/2020-12-california-wildfires-billion.html

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