Firefighting budget draining

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The number of wildland fires and the unusually dry weather caused the National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group to increase the national fire preparedness level to its highest point, PL-5, which signals very high activity.

Summer 2008 was the last time the preparedness level was raised to five and the fifth time in 10 years. The raised level reflects a high degree of wildfire activity, a major commitment of fire resources, and the probability that severe conditions will continue for at least a few days, according to the Aug. 20 press release.

Nationwide 24 type 1 and 2 Incident Management Teams have been activated

The current California preparedness level is 4. The National Interagency Coordinating Center reported a total of 54 new fires in California Sunday, Aug. 25. Fifteen were located in Southern California and one-third of the Incident Management Teams are assigned to fires in the state.

On Sunday, President Barack Obama spoke to Gov. Jerry Brown about the fires in California, especially the Rim Fire threatening Yosemite National Park.

While the number of fires and acreage burned this year is less than the same period in 2011 and 2012, the threats are greater, including the possibility of thunderstorms and lightning across the western U.S.

Re-enforcing the severity of firefighting this year, the U.S. Forest Service has nearly depleted is direct appropriations for fire suppression. Tom Tidwell, Forest Service chief, has already directed the agency to tighten its belts in recreation and other land management activities in order to shift up to $600 million for firefighting.

“It has been another long, tragic fire season and we have several more months of intense activity ahead of us,” Tidwell wrote on Aug. 16. “As predicted, this year’s fire season has led to costs that exceed appropriated fire suppression funds and once again we must now transfer funds from other accounts to make up the difference.

“We must immediately stop incurring financial obligations where needed to ensure funds are available to be withdrawn,” he ordered.

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