USA — HOUSTON — The agency responsible for fighting wildfires has asked the state Legislature for an additional $27.2 million to hire about 90 more firefighters and buy equipment as a rapidly growing population coupled with drought has increased the threat of devastating fires.
The Texas A&M Forest Service also asked the state to restore nearly $35 million in grant money to help train, equip and insure volunteer fire departments. That money was cut during the last legislative session in 2011, also the year of one of the worst and most expensive wildfire seasons in state history. The cost that year was more than $300 million.
The House has recommended providing the agency with the same level of funding it received for 2012-13, which is less than half of what it requested. The Senate has proposed providing at least the additional $27.2 million the service says it needs to expand. The final bill will likely look vastly different from both proposals.
“It would concern me very greatly if they don’t get those funds,” said Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt, a Republican whose district includes Bastrop, where fire destroyed more than 1,700 homes, incinerated tens of thousands of acres and killed four people in 2011.”We still are in the drought pattern. That means we’re still going to have an increased number of wildfires to deal with. It’s just going to take increased personnel, more equipment and more money to deal with those fires,” said Kleinschmidt, adding he is optimistic the agency will get more money to meet the need.