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Study of 12-year-old Schultz Fire suggests cost from newest fires will grow for years

Research from Northern Arizona University’s Ecological Restoration Institute will be used to measure the costs, both in dollars and in well-being from forest fires and their flooding aftermath. 

A study measured the  costs of the Schultz Fire from 2010. It gives some idea of what the ultimate costs of Flagstaff’s newest wildfires will be, even years later.

The fire burned 15,000 acres. The effects of the fire went on for years. From flooding to personal stress. A decade later, about 4% of respondents said they were still suffering health issues.

Melanie Colavito is the institute’s policy director.

"The Schultz Fire was a real wakeup call that should a fire occur on some of the steep slopes and mountainous areas around the city of Flagstaff, followed shortly by extreme monsoon rains, that the risk posed by fire flooding is really, really high," Colavito said. 

"But what I think is really noticeable is the suppression costs, very small fraction costs of a fire, a single fire," she said.

The study determined that mitigation costs, like those being undertaken now to slow flooding from the burn scar of the new Pipeline Fire, far outpace the initial costs of extinguishing it.

Researchers followed up on a study from 2013 of the Schultz Fire. In 2013, the costs of the fire to homeowners and local government jurisdictions ran about $80 million. By 2020, the costs had grown to $100 million. 

Some factors, like housing costs were eliminated from the study. Colavito said by 2015, property value had increased by 50 percent from when the fire occurred.

Researchers are currently asking people about the effects of the Museum Fire, the 2019 blaze that led to devastating flooding in 2021. The results of that study are expected next year.

Fronteras Desk senior editor Michel Marizco is an award-winning investigative reporter based in Flagstaff.