Climate Change Means More Massive Wildfires Ahead, Gov. Inslee Says

Jul 29, 2014

The Washington wildland fires in eastern Washington have so far cost the state more than $50 million.
The Washington wildland fires in eastern Washington have so far cost the state more than $50 million.
Credit Flickr Photo/Washington Department of Natural Resources

Fighting this summer’s wildfires in eastern Washington has cost the state more than $50 million, and Governor Jay Inslee said the state can expect even more expensive fires in years ahead.

The ongoing fires are the “tip of the iceberg," Inslee said, because warmer climate likely means more fires.

“The western United States is facing firestorms in the future which are going to dwarf what we’ve had in the past because the climate is changing, and that’s just a fact,” Inslee said.

Scientists with the University of Washington's Climate Impacts Group expect the acreage of forest burned annually in Washington to quadruple in the next 25 years. Fires in the dry open country of eastern Washington are expected to double in size.

Those projections assume the world's greenhouse gas emissions, which fuel climate change, continue to grow rapidly. Reduced emissions would lower the amount of heat trapped by the atmosphere – and how much of the landscape is expected to go up in smoke each year.

Inslee said it will be up to the state legislature to come up with more money to prevent and fight fires in a warmer climate.

For now, cost is no object when it comes to putting out those fires, especially the 400-square-mile Carlton Complex fire in Okanagan County, according to Inslee. The Carlton Complex fire is the largest in Washington state history. It has cost $23 million to fight so far.

"We are not restraining for one second any response to this fire for any budgetary reason," he said. "We’re bringing everything we can find across the United States to fight these fires. We’ll worry about the financing later on."

The Associated Press contributed reporting.