Oregonians lost nearly $1 billion in homes and belongings during last month’s wildfires, which torched more than 4,000 residences and burned more than 1 million acres across the state, according to a new report.
It’s among the first efforts to calculate the economic toll of the fires, which also killed at least nine people last month.
Josh Lehner of the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis said the homes and personal property destroyed are only the initial calculation of what the state lost. The wildfires damaged the state’s outdoor recreation industry, its timber sector and the state’s image as a healthy, active place to live – and those effects may be felt for years to come.
“What makes this year’s fires different is the fact that they were/are much closer to cities and towns than in recent years,” Lehner wrote in an analysis published Thursday. “We’re not only losing timber and recreation areas, we’re losing structures and towns and evacuating tens of thousands of Oregonians.”
Wildfires erupted across Oregon last month during unusually windy, dry conditions. They burned forests and towns near Portland in the far north of the state and all the way south to the California border, where fires wiped out entire neighborhoods in the communities of Phoenix and Talent.
In his analysis, Lehner estimates the 4,000 homes were worth around $575 million in aggregate. Residents lost another $340 million in belongings, he calculates, using insurance industry data on the value of personal possessions relative to the total value of homes.
In similar wildfires in the past, Lehner found that insurance typically only covers about 75% of what residents lose.
The report makes no attempt to calculate the value of what the timber and outdoor recreation sectors lost, but concludes that Oregon’s forests account for 2% to 3% of the state’s economy. Outdoor recreation may account of another 0.5%.
Oregon’s economy has grown remarkably over the past several years, due in large part to the state’s ability to lure young, productive migrants from elsewhere in the country. The coronavirus pandemic, civil unrest and now a major natural disaster may have diminished Oregon’s attractiveness to potential newcomers and those already living here.
That’s one of the main long-term risks from the wildfires, according to Lehner. But he said it’s too soon to know how the fires will affect perceptions of the state.
“To what extent do residents impacted by the fire pack up and leave Oregon? To what extent do the fires deter other people from moving to Oregon in the first place due to the potential threat of fires?” Lehner wrote. “The answer here is unknown.”
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