Tallying the costs of Two Bulls Fire

State may end up spending $6 million on blaze near Bend

By Dylan J. Darling / The Bulletin / @DylanJDarling

Where the money went

The Oregon Department of Forestry is close to completing its initial audit of the costs for firefighting on the Two Bulls Fire. So far, the estimates for the 6,908-acre fire are:

Operations

Aircraft (helicopters and air tankers): $1,503,496

Hand crews: $1,960,301

Heavy equipment (including water tenders, engines and bulldozers): $769,416

Direct personnel (including task force leaders and dozer bosses): $253,145

Subtotal: $4,486,358

Support

Camp (including showers, caterer and supplies): $418,810

Heavy equipment (including water trucks and lowboy trailers): $69,375

Indirect personnel (organizational overhead including finance, planning and mapping): $473,314

Subtotal: $961,499

Total: $5,447,857

Source: Oregon Department of Forestry

Almost a month since firefighters called the Two Bulls Fire contained, a state official is still checking the costs and making sure all the bills are paid.

Tracy Wrolson, Central Oregon District business manager for the Oregon Department of Forestry in Prineville, said Thursday that his tally is more than $5.4 million spent on the 6,908-acre fire northwest of Bend. He said he’s about 90 percent through his initial audit and expects the total to go up.

“We are probably looking at a total cost closer to $5.8 million to $6 million when all is said and done,” he said.

The cost of the fire includes everything from lunches at the fire camp, a field off Johnson Road where fire crews stayed during the fire, to retardant drops by air tankers. It also covers the cost of hand crews — firefighters on the ground.

A typical 20-person hand crew costs $12,000 to $13,000 per day, Wrolson said, with that amount covering the pay, transportation and other expenses. In all, the Forestry Department spent more than $1.9 million on hand crews during the Two Bulls Fire.

The fire, which was first spotted June 7 near Tumalo Reservoir, burned mostly on private timberland protected by the state Forestry Department, so the agency bears most of the burden of the firefighting cost.

After starting as two blazes, the Two Bulls Fire burned into one. It threatened to spread into west Bend and prompted the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office to order the evacuation of nearly 200 homes.

A crew of more than 1,000 firefighters fought the blaze, which was declared contained June 14 after eight days of firefighting. Wrolson provided The Bulletin with a cost report for the firefighting.

The report shows the two most expensive days were the second and third days of the fire — costs totaled $986,277 on June 8 and $921,961 on June 9 — which he said is typical.

“Usually by that second and third day, things are pretty ramped up,” he said.

The first days of a fire also are typically among the most expensive, Wrolson said, because they are often when there is the most aircraft involved. One drop of retardant from an air tanker costs the state about $15,000.

In contrast, the cost on June 14, when firefighting wound down, was $218,119, according to the report.

The Forestry Department relies half on money collected from private landowners and half on state funds to pay for fighting fires such as Two Bulls. The fire also burned about 325 acres of land overseen by the Deschutes National Forest, so the federal government will be covering about 7 percent of the cost, Wrolson said.

Once Wrolson is done going over the costs of the fire, there will be state and federal audits, with officials not likely to close the books on Two Bulls until next spring or summer.

“Fire costs on big fires take a long time to tally up,” said Rod Nichols, spokesman for the Forestry Department in Salem.

A team of investigators, led by Oregon State Police, continues to investigate the cause of the fire. Days after the fire started, the sheriff’s office announced it was human-caused and likely arson. Deschutes County, the sheriff’s office, Central Oregon companies and individuals contributed to a reward fund leading to a conviction in the case; the reward stands at more than $43,000.

If someone is found to have intentionally or negligently started the Two Bulls Fire, Wrolson said the individual may be charged for the state’s effort to put it out.

“They could be liable for the cost of the entire fire,” he said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7812, ddarling@bendbulletin.com