Stop the Budget Cuts to Wildland Firefighters
I have been a Federal wildland firefighter for 18 years, having worked on hotshot crews, a helicopter rappel crew, engines, and hand crews in five different states. Over the years I have never seen our budgets shrink so much so fast, taking a serious toll on our manpower and firefighting capabilities in the process. The timing of this trend could not be worse.
Last year’s fire season was the third worst in 50 years, with 9.3 million acres and 4400 structures lost. Fires have burned 60% more acreage on average this decade than in the previous four. This is partly due to accumulation of what are known as hazardous fuels – millions of acres of dry timber and brush that can light like a match from a lightning strike or carelessly discarded cigarette. The more these fuels are allowed to accumulate, the stronger and more dangerous the fires become.
Sadly this fact has been lost on our politicians. This year has seen a reduction of over 500 firefighters and 50 fire engines due to sequestration cuts. Next year the White House is proposing a 24% reduction in hazardous fuels removal even after the House Appropriations Committee found that firefighting budgets across government are already underfunded by $700 million.
In Washington State’s Wenatchee River Ranger District where I work, we have suffered the loss of a 20 person hand crew and an engine in the last year alone, reducing our local initial attack forces by 30%. These cuts happened just months before the start of the Wenatchee River Complex fire which burned more than 45,000 acres. Were it not for the hazardous fuels treatments we conducted before the blaze, we may not have been able to stop it before reaching the city of Wenatchee.
Politicians need to understand that these cuts are completely unsustainable. Reducing our budget guarantees the cost and size of these catastrophic wildfires to only rise. I have seen firsthand the devastation left by a lack of fuels reduction and manpower funding. What happened in Wenatchee can and has happened all throughout the country. Something needs to be done to reverse the trend.
We have had undeniable success in stopping wildfire growth in treated areas, saving homes and reducing costs in the process. It is an ounce of prevention that leads to a pound of cure.
Please join me in asking our elected officials in Washington, D.C. to do the right thing for wildland firefighters and the communities we protect all across America. Demand Congress replace the funds taken by sequestration and fully fund fire suppression and hazardous fuels reduction activities in 2014. Sign our petition and help stop the cuts to personnel and hazardous fuels reduction.