Cost of fire protection

The cost of fire protection in Canada could double by 2040.

Canada invests significant resources in protecting forest-dependent communities, timber and other resources from wildland fires. Over the last decade, yearly expenditures for fire protection ranged between $500 million and $1 billion. Cost of fire protection is higher in years of high fire activity.

Since 1970, wildland fire management expenditures across Canada have been rising by about $120 million per decade. To maintain its current level of fire protection over the period 2000–2040, it is estimated that Canada should double wildland fire management expenditures, even if fire occurrences increase by 15%, which is a moderate projection.

Read how the cost of fire protection and its indicators are defined

The cost of fire protection can be measured through wildland fire management expenditures, which may include fire preparedness, mitigation, response and recovery costs. Although not consistently reported, this information is compiled by provincial and territorial government agencies and by Parks Canada for Canada’s national park lands and is summarized by the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre.

  • Zonation – Expenditures vary across the country and within provinces and territories, depending on land management objectives, forest resources and other values at risk. Most provinces and both forested territories (Yukon and Northwest Territories) divide their forested areas into two zones: a full response zone, where all fires receive active suppression (Figure 1), and a modified response zone, where most fires are left to burn naturally.  
  • Management – Expenditures are broken down into fixed and variable costs. Fixed costs are associated with maintaining the fire management program and reflect the typical fire load. Variable costs reflect the cost of additional fire fighters and aircraft required during a challenging fire season.

For Forest Change, wildland fire management expenditure data were summarized from each fire management agency across Canada for the last 40 years. Expenditures were calculated by the Canadian consumer price index, as reported by Statistics Canada and presented as 2009 dollars. Annual statistics on these measures were obtained from the National Forestry Database.

Why the cost of fire protection is important

Significant resources are invested to protect Canada’s forests and forest-dependent communities.

Fire control strategies aim to reduce wildland fire damage to forest-dependent communities, timber and other resources. Over the last decade, yearly expenditures for fire protection ranged between $500 million and $1 billion.

Fire agencies plan their budgets based on average fire years. There is high interannual variability in the annual area burned and the number of fires. Cost of fire protection is higher in years of high fire activity, requiring additional expenditures to protect people and forests. Tracking wildland fire management expenditures is important for mitigating hazards and improving fire preparedness, response and recovery capabilities.

Map showing Canada’s Full Response Zone indicating the area in which all wildland fires are actively suppressed.

Figure 1 – Canada’s Full Response Zone, in which all wildland fires are actively suppressed

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Graph showing recent trends in Canadian fire protection expenditures, including fixed, variable, and total costs from 1970 to 2009.

Figure 2 – The cost of fire protection in Canada from 1970 to 2009 (in million 2009 Canadian dollars)

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Graph data
Table listing fire protection costs in Canada for the years 1970 to 2009. Fixed, variable, and total costs are shown using the value of the Canadian dollar in 2009.
Year Fixed fire expenditures (x1,000,000) in 2009$ Variable fire expenditures (x1,000,000) in 2009$ Total fire expenditures (x1,000,000) in 2009$
1970 191.99 134.90 326.90
1971 205.98 167.98 373.96
1972 150.03 149.69 299.72
1973 160.11 82.86 242.97
1974 166.44 96.21 262.65
1975 181.06 96.23 277.29
1976 196.72 138.77 335.49
1977 217.21 98.57 315.79
1978 202.45 101.72 304.17
1979 164.78 147.90 312.68
1980 186.03 348.74 534.76
1981 223.62 365.96 589.58
1982 229.28 275.51 504.79
1983 317.81 210.18 527.99
1984 285.33 170.98 456.31
1985 295.78 260.26 556.04
1986 242.45 225.43 467.88
1987 232.50 304.99 537.50
1988 238.45 353.55 592.00
1989 232.52 407.55 640.07
1990 261.91 367.15 629.06
1991 313.56 296.08 609.63
1992 299.03 203.15 502.19
1993 280.82 175.24 456.06
1994 292.51 246.35 538.87
1995 285.47 487.35 772.82
1996 276.59 268.45 545.04
1997 272.44 153.20 425.65
1998 364.80 734.95 1099.75
1999 381.12 428.83 809.95
2000 343.02 204.74 547.76
2001 339.87 293.12 632.99
2002 331.92 506.32 838.24
2003 320.31 810.06 1130.38
2004 320.29 376.54 696.82
2005 376.32 341.42 717.74
2006 430.97 504.02 934.99
2007 366.21 420.74 786.95
2008 374.74 329.56 704.30
2009 360.53 628.32 988.85

What has changed

Since 1970, wildland fire management expenditures across Canada have been rising by about $120 million per decade.

Since 1970, wildland fire management expenditures have been steadily rising in Canada, reaching annual values of up to 1 billion dollars in recent years (Figure 2).

The outlook

Wildland fire management expenditures are expected to double between 2000 and 2040.

Climate change projections suggest more frequent weather conditions conducive to fire, and an increase in annual area burned and number of fires, which will likely affect the cost of fire protection.

To maintain its current level of fire protection over the period 2000–2040, it is estimated that Canada should double wildland fire management expenditures, even if fire occurrences increase by 15%, which is a moderate projection.

Sources and references for the cost of fire protection and its indicators

Canadian Forest Service key contacts

Mike Wotton, Research Scientist, Forest Fire, Northern Forestry Centre
Sylvie Gauthier, Research Scientist, Forest Succession, Laurentian Forestry Centre

Adaptation tools and resources

Fire Smart Canada – helps people understand the potential of wildland fire affecting homes and communities. It includes a risk reduction program for forestry companies.

Forest Change Toolkit – a list of tools and resources for climate change adaptation

Find out more
Related Canadian Forest Service research