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Cost of Hypothetical Wildfire Near Williams Could Run into the Hundreds of Millions

Dyan Bone/U.S. Forest Service, Southwestern Region, Kaibab National Forest

A new study from Northern Arizona University outlines the economic impact in the case of a catastrophic wildfire on Bill Williams Mountain. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports.

The cost of evacuations, fire suppression and infrastructure recovery could top out at $694 million. A wildfire could threaten the city’s sole watershed and hurt tax, tourism and business revenue.

Matt Ryan is the chairman of the Coconino County Board of Supervisors, which commissioned the report.

"Williams is predominantly a small business town, tourist-based economy. It could have a tremendous impact upon Williams and the region. It’s number one priority on the county’s flood control list," says Ryan.

Bill Williams Mountain is overgrown with dense ponderosa pine and is vulnerable to wildfire and post-fire flooding. According to the report, forest restoration to mitigate fire danger would cost about $8 million.

Kaibab National Forest managers have closed Bill Williams Mountain until the area receives significant precipitation. They’re also developing plans for thinning.

Ryan Heinsius joined the KNAU newsroom as executive producer in 2013 and was named news director and managing editor in 2024. As a reporter, he has covered a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Public Media Journalists Association Award winner, and a frequent contributor to NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and national newscast.
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