Over the last decade, wealthy Americans living in wildfire-prone areas have started turning to private contract services to keep their homes safe. Reuters describes how niche insurance policies are now sending private firefighter crews to protect multi-million-dollar homes from damage. One of AIG’s insurance plans for Western residents will preemptively send a crew to cover a home with fire-resistant foam when a wildfire approaches, at a cost of $7,000 annually.
Private crews pose a number of challenges to federal wildfire operations, because they can work at cross-purposes, competing for limited resources and creating confusion for residents. “The industry is about profit and loss and they’re in business to make money,” assistant operations director for the U.S. Forest Service Steve Gage told Reuters.
The growth of private firefighting only underscores how climate change leaves low-income Americans (and globally, poor countries) the most vulnerable. Hurricane Sandy was just one recent example of extreme weather leaving low-income and minority communities behind in the aftermath of rebuilding. Colorado’s extreme flooding likewise has destroyed farms, motor homes, and immigrants’ livelihoods.
As a drier climate pushes wildfires to new extremes, the price tag to stop those fires will only grow. That fact — combined with budget cuts to the U.S. Forest Service — has meant that for the second year in a row, the federal government ran out of funds for fighting wildfires. Sequestration has cut $115 million from wildfire suppression, and another $100 million from a reserve fund. As a result, the Forest Service has had to divert millions from preventing wildfires to begin with to battle massive blazes like the Yosemite Rim Fire.