Budget Cuts to Make Wildfire Season Tougher

May 15, 2013

The U.S. is heading into a tough wildfire season made even more challenging because budget cuts mean fewer firefighters to battle blazes, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said Monday.

Another dry year is creating the potential for another extreme summer of forest and range fires, Jewell said after spending the past two days touring the National Interagency Fire Center. She was joined by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who said a 7.5 percent cut to the 2013 U.S. Forest Service budget means 500 fewer firefighters on the ground this year.

Even before Monday’s visit, fire experts were predicting a grim scenario for this summer’s fire season. A dry winter and early warming is creating heightened potential for West Coast states, central Idaho, Montana, Arizona and New Mexico.

In 2012, record-setting fires raged in New Mexico and Oregon, while destructive Colorado blazes torched hundreds of homes amid one of the state’s worst seasons in years.

Just like last year, Colorado experienced some of its first 2013 wildfires in March.

Outside the West this year, much of the U.S. is expected to experience normal fire conditions, with below-normal danger in the South where significant, long-duration rains saturated the landscape since Jan. 1, Delgado said.

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