- Associated Press - Saturday, May 31, 2014

KENAI, Alaska (AP) - The cost of battling the 300-square mile Funny River wildfire has climbed to $6.1 million.

Fire operations cost $1.13 million and $1.05 million a day at its peak last Saturday and Sunday, according to financial data from the Alaska Interagency Incident Management team. That figure has since fallen to about $750,000 a day by Tuesday. Nearly one-quarter of operational costs have been spent on air support for the ground crews, including the costs of fire retardant, helicopter support, water-scooping planes and fixed-wing aircraft.

Another large chunk of the money spent thus far has gone toward crews and direct operations of the fire. Each crew is between 16 to 20 people.

“It’s really nice to see operations stuff is taking up the majority of the pie,” said Jaci Stimach, deputy finance section chief for the management team. “In some fires in the Lower 48, it almost starts to look like support costs are the biggest chunks. We want to keep the support side down and have more devoted to operations because those are the ones that do all the work.”

The 10-day effort to control the wildfire has taken 760 people, but plans call to begin phasing out crews this week. At least four of the 17 crews will leave in the next few days, the Peninsula Clarion reported Saturday (https://bit.ly/1oHY2SY).

As the fire gets closer to being acceptably contained, support costs will go up and operation costs will go down as crews and equipment are readied to leave the area.

Often a large part of the costs of managing a fire are incurred behind the scenes, Stimach said.

“You see the helicopters, see the ducks flying, see the trucks, the engines, the firefighters out there. But you don’t see the people in the camp,” she said.

At the height of activity, 276 pieces of equipment - including rental vehicles, all-terrain vehicles and boats - were in use by firefighters, Stimach said. But as activity has slowed, so, too, has the need for that equipment.

“We got rid of the ‘dozers yesterday because there was no need for them,” Stimach said. “We’ve got rain. We don’t want to be cutting up more of the property than we need, so we let them go.”

Currently all of the costs will be billed to the State of Alaska, Stimach said. But, ultimately, the state will bill the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service because the fire was primarily contained on that agency’s land.

This week, rain and high humidity aided efforts to fight the fires.

___

Information from: (Kenai, Alaska) Peninsula Clarion, https://www.peninsulaclarion.com


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