For the second straight year, the federal government has exhausted its budget for fighting wildfires and will now be forced to scrape together $600 million from other sources. As of this week, the Forest Service has spent $967 million on firefighters and their equipment.
Almost 32,000 fires have burned in the U.S. this year, destroying some 3 million acres of forest. Last year, 67,700 fires burned 9.3 million acres. According to the U.S. Forest Service, this is now par for the course, with parched seasons lasting more than two months longer than previous decades.
Forest Service Fire Chief Thomas L. Tidwell made the announcement in an August 16 letter to regional foresters, station directors and deputy chiefs, saying that the exhaustion of funds had been expected and that “we must now transfer funds from other accounts to make up the difference.” Tidwell instructed subordinates to defer contracts for everything except the removal of hazardous fuels and emergencies. He also asked that they cut back on hiring and overtime pay.
California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency Thursday for the wildfire currently raging out of control near Yosemite National Park, which has burned more than 84 square miles of forest and is only 2% contained.