Feds Brace for a Big Fire Season With a Smaller Staff

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Federal officials are preparing for a bad fire season, especially in California and along the rest of the Pacific Coast. It's already begun in California, with nearly 40,000 acres having burned since the beginning of the year, thanks to the very dry winter statewide.

springs fire ventura wildfire
The Springs Fire in Ventura County burned more than 25,000 acres earlier this month. (Dan Rhodes/KQED)

"Very little precipitation has occurred since the beginning of 2013," Jeremy Sullens of the National Interagency Fire Center said on a press call this morning. "In fact in some areas, specifically California, we've seen less than 25 percent of the annual precipitation we'd expect for the year so far."

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Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the US Forest Service is facing a worse-than-usual season with a smaller-than-usual fire-fighting force.


"As a result of a sequester and across-the-board cuts that have been applied, we'll have about 500 fewer firefighters [nationally] at the Forest Service than we would otherwise have," he said. "That may impact about 50 engines that we would otherwise have." That's about 5 percent below the usual staffing level. About 20 million acres in California are managed by the Forest Service.

Many of the state's rural areas are covered by CalFire, the state wildland firefighting agency, which has also seen budget cuts in recent years. This year, they started beefing up staffing early, in response to the early fires.