Federal Wildfire Fighting Spend Surges to Record High

Posted: September 3, 2018

Source: Bloomberg Government

Wildfire contract spending in FY 2017 topped $1 billion for first time

Many regions exceeded 10-year average for burned acreage

As the number and severity of wildfires grew nationwide in 2017, federal contract spending on wildfire suppression surged to more than $1 billion.

According to the National Interagency Coordination Center’s 2017 Wildland Fire Annual Report, the number of U.S. wildfires in 2017 grew by just 5.5 percent to 71,499 year-over-year, but these fires blackened more than 10 million acres, 82 percent more than the acreage burned in 2016.

Predictably, wildfire suppression contract spending by key coordinating bureaus within the departments of Agriculture and Interior reached a record $1.1 billion in fiscal 2017, 49 percent higher than the previous year and 94 percent more than fiscal 2009.

The increased intensity of forest fires and the growing length of the fire season are putting pressure on USDA and Interior, the key firefighting agencies.

The fiscal 2018 omnibus spending package (Public Law 115–141) enacted in March included a “fire funding fix” that established a new funding structure for the Forest Service from 2020 through 2027 (see BGOV Bill Summary). Beginning in 2020, $2.25 billion will be available to USDA and Interior to fight wildfires. This will grow by $100 million each year through 2027, reaching $2.95 billion in new budget authority.


August is the peak month for fire activity across the West. The Fire Center is predicting heavy lightning with the potential to ignite massive amounts of readily available dry fuel. For the first 10 months of 2018, USDA and Interior report spending a combined $351 million. Year-to-date spending does not fully reflect the cost of current California wildfires like the Carr fire in Shasta County, which has burned more than 163,000 acres since igniting on July 23, according to California’s Cal Fire web site. Two peak wildfire months still remain in the fiscal year.

With missions largely focused on America’s rural areas, the USDA and Interior are strong supporters of small businesses, and the wildfire industrial base reflects diversity and competitiveness. A Bloomberg Government wildfire market search flags Israeli holding company Israeli Corp. Ltd. and Aero Flite Inc., suppliers of fire retardants, as the two largest vendors. The remaining eight of the top 10 vendors provide air transport services (NAICS market 481212). A total of 2,057 vendors held active wildfire contracts in fiscal 2017.

Bloomberg Government’s Solicitations Module currently lists 58 open and active new opportunities referencing “wildfire.”