Environment & Science

Springs Fire: Cal Fire has spent $170M of $220M emergency firefighting fund

The Lone Peak Hotshots maintain a fire line in Hidden Valley, Calif., on May 3, 2013.
The Lone Peak Hotshots maintain a fire line in Hidden Valley, Calif., on May 3, 2013.
Mae Ryan/KPCC

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The Camarillo Springs Fire started Thursday morning, and since then, hundreds of firefighters have worked to contain the blaze.

"It just takes a lot of effort from all the different agencies," says Cal Fire spokesman Capt. Richard Cordova. So far, San Bernardino County, Ventura County, Los Angeles County, the U.S. Forest Service and others have helped with operations. 

A big fire like this takes a lot of people, a lot of equipment and ultimately, a lot of money.

This fiscal year Cal Fire has spent around $170 million of its $220 million emergency fund. Some years though, there are more fires than money.

That happened five years ago during a particularly bad fire season. Cal Fire spent half a billion dollars which was way over its budget. When something like that happens, the agency can turn to the federal government for help or it can ask the California legislature to free up extra funds. (See below for a chart of major fires in 2013.)

RELATED: Springs Fire now at 28,000 acres, 30 percent containment

For instance, those air tankers shown on TV news dropping fire retardant costs around $2,600 an hour to operate. That's not including fuel. Around half a dozen have been used battling the Springs Fire.

Then there's the cost of the manpower. Julie Hutchinson, also with Cal Fire, says it takes a lot to keep the crews going.

"You think about it you've got to feed them," Hutchinson explains. "You've got to make sure they've got hot meals, drinking water. When you think about how much drinking water we've got to supply, especially on a hot dry day, there's a lot of cost to that."

The Springs Fire is being handled by state agencies.  When a massive wildfire breaks out on federal land, the tab can get even higher.  That's because the federal government often needs trailers and tents to house its teams.

Dan Anglin rents out that kind of equipment. He runs a business called Western Fire Support Systems. When there's a big fire in California officials call him for help. He'll typically rent them 15 trailers filled with stuff.

"It's got copy machines, phones, it's got a sink unit," says Anglin. "A PA system for them to have their briefings, boards to put their maps and stuff on, ... all the stuff they need for the team to go to work."

The entire rig costs around $11,000 a day.

Julie Hutchinson of Cal Fire says the agency does its best to keep costs down.

"We are very diligent. We work really hard to manage that. But there are times when mother nature gives us weather systems like we are seeing right now in May where those costs are going to go up."

But no matter the cost, Julie Hutchinson says they'll make sure they fight fires with everything they've got.