U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is getting used to spending time in burned Northern California communities this year. Earlier in the summer, he spent time touring Redding neighborhoods destroyed by the Camp Fire. Then on Monday, he visited the devastated town of Paradise, seeing firsthand the devastation of California’s deadliest and most destructive fire ever.
Zinke’s takeaway from Paradise’s devastation? The Camp Fire is going to cost a lot of money.
The Interior Secretary indicated that the final cost of the fire will likely be in the billions, a number that may have been shocking months ago, but now seems commonplace in the new NorCal, where devastating and costly wildfires have ravaged communities over the past 13 months.
Thank you to Californians for making time for @SecretarySonny and me to visit today. I know you all have a lot going on after the Camp Fire. We appreciate your time and discussion. pic.twitter.com/yh6JTSaWHv
— Secretary Ryan Zinke (@SecretaryZinke) November 26, 2018
“There’s a lot of things I’d rather spend this federal money on rather than repairing damage of things that have been destroyed,” Zinke said, nodding to other public services, such as improving visitor experiences at Yosemite National Park or thinning forests as options for the money.
The term “billions” is actually pretty vague, but it indicates a new financial playing field for wildfire recovery efforts, which used to operate in the “millions”. And while the discussion over the cause of these fires enters the public domain, the future allocation of funds for prevention will be a hot topic for years to come.
For example, Zinke said building restrictions in fire-prone areas should be part of a discussion about protections from wildfires. “When we rebuild, having a frank discussion whether it’s appropriate to rebuild every place is an important part of the equation,” Zinke told The Associated Press.
Zinke was joined by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to tour Paradise where they presented their message that environmental lawsuits and government red tape stand in the way of thinning overgrown forests and mitigating the severity of wildfires in the future.
With the Camp Fire extinguished by the recent Thanksgiving rainstorm, officials have put all of their efforts towards the humanitarian crisis caused by the tens of thousands of displaced Butte County residents. So far, the federal government has distributed over $20 million to displaced residents through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Most of that money has been spent on housing assistance, including vouchers for hotel rooms.
With 88 deaths and over 200 people still missing from the Camp Fire, it remains in a league of its own in terms of California wildfire devastation. Officials continue to search through the nearly 19,000 destroyed buildings in search of human remains in an attempt to identify the people killed in the fire. Due to the heat of the fire and complete destruction of the buildings, they may never find all the missing people.