MEDFORD, Ore. - More than 475 fire fighters from across Oregon responded to the two fires burning in Southern Oregon this week, and the federal government is now aiding in the firefighting costs. So far, the cost of suppressing the South County Fire Complex in Ashland and Medford has reached around $820,000.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, has authorized the use of federal funds to help curb costs to local agencies. Five air tankers and five helicopters fought the complex. Everytime an air tanker dropped a round of retardant Monday it cost around $12,000. FEMA representatives say funds were approved when around 400 homes in Ashland and Medford were threatened.
Federal Fire Management Assistance Grant Program (FMAGP) is provided through the president's Disaster Relief Fund. The fund is made available by FEMA to assist in fighting fires that threaten to cause a major disaster.
The FEMA funds will ease costs for local fire departments, law enforcement agencies, emergency management operations, and the Oregon Department of Foresty which brought in resources from all over the state of Oregon. "There's significant overtime costs on an incident of this size and FEMA pays for 75 percent of those costs," Chief Deputy Fire Marshall Jim Walker said.
The Red Cross also incurs costs when staging resource centers like the one set up in Ashland Monday afternoon. "In our particular instance we utilized one of the local armories, and its not a free gift to the American Red Cross. We have to pay for that. It can be very expensive. The last cost I heard was like $480 every 24 hours," Red Cross Emergency Service Director Antone Hernandez said.
Fire officials say if federal dollars are not obtained the firefighting costs could fall on the community. "Fires of this size can cost up to one-million to two-million dollars to suppress and fight. And of those smaller districts that don't have those resources (they) need to go out and get them, they usually can't afford them. And therefore the county or the community would have to find some way to pay for that resource," Walker said.