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Museum Fire Impact: $12M+ and That’s Just the Money!

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by Patrick J. Paul

The costs of Flagstaff’s July 2019 Museum Fire, fully contained as of August 15th and for which no cause has yet been determined, are now anticipated to exceed $13,000,000.  To date, the Coconino National Forest Service has spent almost $10 million in dedicated fire suppression efforts.  Meanwhile, Coconino County itself estimates more than $1 million will be required for flood mitigation preparations.  According to the Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project, these costs include, among other things, wages and transport for 700 personnel, aircraft and fuel for vehicles involved in combatting the fire.

The ramifications, however, run deeper than financial costs.  For example, the Museum Fire burned through the endangered Mexican spotted owl habitat.  These birds were seen in the weeks before the fire but many of their nests were burned making credible assessments of population impact impossible until the birds nest again in the spring.  Coconino County officials are hopeful that a final report identifying the cause of the Museum Fire will be released early this fall.

Forest management and fire mitigation are areas of heightened focus throughout Arizona.  In Flagstaff, as part of a forest thinning project, forest officials have collected woodchips to send to a South Korean company, JA International, which plans to use the woodchips for power generation.  This initial shipment could be the first of many if power generation from the Flagstaff-based woodchips is successful.  Such an approach could be a win-win for the South Koreans as well as to forest management efforts in the state.