State chastises U.S. over wildfires tab
LOS ANGELES — California’s emergency services director has fired off a sharply worded letter to the U.S. Forest Service that said the agency had stiffed local governments $18 million for fighting wildfires on federal lands last year and raised the prospect the state may stop protecting national forests during blazes.
“I cannot continue to support the deployment of resources to protect federal land that ultimately may bankrupt our local governments,” Emergency Services Director Mark Ghilarducci said in the letter sent Monday to Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell.
The dispute stems from long-standing commitments that coordinate and reimburse firefighters for work on federal lands. Nearly half the land in California is federally owned, and the greatest percentage of that is in national forests.
Wildfires are fought with a combination of local, state and federal firefighters working under mutual aid agreements that often send them hundreds of miles from home. Massive encampments that sprout up at big wildfires include bean counters who tally the costs of fighting fires and figure out how to reimburse the many agencies helping out.