LITTLE ROCK (KTHV) - Today's THV is taking a closer look at the cost of battling wildfires.
We sat down with State Forester Joe Fox on Thursday. He says the price tag, while not officially tallied yet, lands somewhere in the hundreds of thousands of dollars a day. And it covers everything from manpower to diesel and those planes working overhead.
"Probably two weeks ago it was 10 to 15 fires a day and that was kind of a big day, now it's beginning to be 30 to 40 fires a day," Fox said.
State Forester Joe Fox spells out a growing fight for his agency and one with serious costs to bear.
"This past week, it's been 60 hours per week average for our firefighters," Fox said.
So what does that mean for payroll? As an example, Fox says that mid-range firefighters earn around $14 an hour, so last week they got paid $840 for those 60 hours.
It takes a lot more money to fill up the commission's 104 dozers running on diesel.
"When they come to work in the morning, they top off the dozers so they are ready to go in with a full tank," Fox said.
Fox says that a full tank for one dozer is about 24 gallons; you multiply that by the current AAA average for Arkansas diesel at $3.56 and it's about $85 bucks a tank.
You can't forget the planes up above fighting the fires. The Forestry Commission has three under contract costing $875 dollars an hour per plane.
"We figure at the rate we're going at, it would cost about $300,000 a month to operate that contract," Fox said.
The costs are piling up out here but Fox says there's one silver lining: free assistance from partners like timber companies, the U.S. Forest Service and lots volunteer fire departments.
"We'd be a sunken ship without partners here in Arkansas," Fox said.
Fox says the help has included gas donations, manpower and dozers. And while it's all welcome, Fox says that if the drought conditions don't let up by September or October, the State Forestry Commission could be facing a budget crisis. Fox adds that it's going to take several good soakings of rain the coming weeks to keep finances at bay.