Fire Payments for Prescott Crew Covered Most Costs

September 4, 2013

The Granite Mountain Hotshots battled numerous wildfires across West in recent years, netting reimbursements that paid for most of the city of Prescott’s expenses for maintaining the elite crew which lost all of its members but one in the Yarnell Hill Fire.

The Hotshots’ budget has become a point of debate in Prescott as the Arizona City Council decides whether to continue the program that was decimated by the June 30 deaths of 19 of the crew’s 20 members when shifting winds drove flames over their position in a canyon with heavy brush.

Although the council had earlier appeared to support retaining the Hotshots program, the process has slowed as officials consider related matters such as insurance and retirement costs.

An Arizona State Land Department statement released by the city listed reimbursements for more than 150 incidents since 2009, the Daily Courier reported.

Those included fires in Arizona, such as 2010’s Schultz Fire near Flagstaff, 2012’s Gladiator Fire at Crown King and the 2013’s close-to-home Doce Fire in Prescott. Other fires took the crew throughout the Southwest and as far away as Texas and Idaho.

An Arizona State Land Department statement, which the City of Prescott released this week, lists reimbursements to the city for more than 150 fire incidents that the Granite Mountain Hotshot crew responded to since 2009.

The reimbursement numbers were sizeable. Idaho’s Wesley Fire, for instance, brought $198,000 in reimbursements to the city, and the Gladiator Fire added $120,000.

Despite the steady stream of revenue, though, city budget records indicate that the Granite Mountain Hotshots’ efforts regularly fell short of covering the crew’s expenses.

Prescott expected to collect $1.3 million to $1.5 million annually from reimbursements, and the city came closest to recovering its costs in the 2010-2011 fiscal year.

Reimbursement that year totaled $1,456,158 while costs amounted to $1,463,133, a shortfall of $6,975.

The gap was as high as $206,460 in the 2008-2009 fiscal year.

The city’s budget director said the books on the 2012-2013 fiscal year haven’t been closed yet, but the Hotshots portion of the budget could finish in the black.

Based on the $1,349,859 in expected expenses, the reimbursements of $1,590,415 would put the Hotshots about $240,000 in the black for the past fiscal year.

The higher numbers are directly related to a national trend producing more work for crews battling wildfires, said Darrell Willis, chief of the city fire department’s Wildland Division. “There are more fires, they’re larger, and they’re lasting longer,” he said.

However, the Wildland Division’s costs only reflect operating costs such as personnel, supplies and utilities, not capital costs for vehicles.

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