National Wildfire Budget Depleted as Fires Rage On

By Jillian MacMath, AccuWeather.com Staff Writer
September 18, 2013; 6:32 AM ET
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The U.S. Forest Service has already exceeded its firefighting budget by $178 million, as more than 100 active wildfires rage on at the start of the season's peak.

This marks the sixth year the wildfire budget has been exceeded since 2002.

After rescissions and the national sequester, the U.S. Forest service had $922 million available for wildfire suppression in 2013. This included $510 million in appropriations from Congress, $113 million of carryover from prior years and $299 million in the FLAME fund.

The 2013 budget has decreased by approximately 5 percent from 2012.

Firefighter Russell Mitchell monitors a back burn during the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park, Calif., on Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Earlier this month, the U.S. Forest Service increased their preparedness level to PL-5, the highest level on the scale, indicating that resources were stretched thin, according to a press release.

So far this year, 1,218 wildfires have burned more than 340,000 acres of national forests in California.

Meanwhile, the Rim Fire, which has recently become the third-largest wildfire in California history, continues to burn in Yosemite National Park.

Due to the U.S. Forest Service financial deficit, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has authorized the use of federal funding to assist the state of California in combatting the massive blaze.

The authorization makes FEMA funding available to reimburse up to 75 percent of eligible firefighting costs.

But despite the large number of fires burning across the country, the amount of acres to have been burned or are currently burning are significantly below the ten-year average.

"During 2013, above average fire activity has occurred in California and the Pacific Northwest, affecting large population centers and other high valued resources," Jennifer Jones, Public Affairs Specialist for the U.S. Forest Service said.

Crews in Yosemite conducted firing operations adjacent to the Crane Flat helibase last week. This helps fight fire with fire by removing fuels such as vegetation from the edge of fire lines, according to the National Park Service. Image courtesy of the National Park Service.

"These fires are tremendously complex and require substantial assets to ensure that affected people and resources are protected and firefighter safety is maintained."

Continuing drought conditions across much of the western United States have also resulted in severe burning conditions.

This has increased the potential for large, extreme wildfires and the aggressive action against them has led to above-average costs, Jones said.

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, significant wild land fire potential will remain above normal for most of the central and Southern California mountains through September.

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The weather will provide little relief during the season's peak of September and early October.

"These months provide little if any helpful rains at all," AccuWeather.com Expert Senior Meteorologist and Southwest Weather Expert Ken Clark said.

Late September into October also bring the threat of Santa Ana winds, which have the ability to rapidly spread fires.

"You really don't need a strong Santa Ana wind to make it a bad fire situation. Things get out of hand really quickly," Clark said. "A small fire can become a ten thousand acre fire in a few hours."

Despite the increased threat over the next few months, the U.S. Forest Service remains adamant that scarce resources and low funds will not put service men and women nor the public at risk.

"The U.S. Forest Service will not allow any funding shortfall to hamper delivery of our public protection responsibilities, nor will we allow it to increase risk to incident responders," Jones said.


Have questions, comments, or a story to share? Email Jillian MacMath at macmathj@accuweather.com, follow her on Twitter @Accu_Jillian or Google+. Follow us @breakingweather, or on Facebook and Google+.

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