USA — An additional $910 million in emergency federal funding for fighting wildfires has been approved by Congress and sent to the president, Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s Los Angeles office announced today.
The federal firefighting budget has been depleted by an unusually-active fire season this year, including the worst rash of lightning-caused fires in California history, the senior senator from the Golden State said.
“This year California was hit by wildfires in a scale that was unprecedented in our history, and these fires drained the nation’s federal firefighting resources,” Feinstein said.
Some 8,000 dry lightning strikes in one storm last June sparked more than 2,000 fires, and blackened an area larger than the state of Delaware. Feinstein said the federal government’s various fire agencies are left reeling, and broke.
The U.S. Forest Service has already blown through its $1.2 billion nationwide firefighting budget, and had to shovel over $400 million from other important Forest Service needs to pay the bills to fight fires, Feinstein said.
The fire budget bill sent to President Bush includes $610 million for fighting fires the rest of the year, $175 million to reduce fire fuels by clearing dead forest growth, and $100 million for lands restoration.
Feinstein said the bill includes mandates for the federal government to fully staff all firefighting jobs in California, where 8.5 percent of those 4,432 positions are currently vacant.
The bill would also require the Defense Department to restore two C-130H fire tankers to the duty roster at the Naval Air Station at Point Mugu, so they can be used to fight fires quickly. Existing planes stationed there have inoperative fire equipment, and Feinstein says the federal government has been too slow to replace them.