California: Too Broke for More Fires

At least not without major help from Uncle Sam
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 8, 2009 7:45 AM CDT
Jeff Trapani, of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection hoses down a hot spot in the burned out remains of a home destroyed by the 49er fire in Auburn, Calif., Aug. 31, 2009.   (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
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(Newser) – California’s wildfires haven’t just destroyed property and forestland, they’ve also scorched the state’s beleaguered budget, Time reports. Arnold Schwarzenegger didn't lay a finger on the state's forestry budget of $518 million, and more than doubled the state’s emergency fund for fighting wildfires this year to $182 million, but $108 million of that has already been spent. “We have literally burned through more than half of the emergency fire fund,” said a Finance Department spokesman.

Should that fund run dry, the state still has a $500 million general emergency fund; after that it will have to rely on federal help. The Forestry Department will help pick up the Station Fire tab because much of it was on federal land, while FEMA grants can cover up to 75% of expenses when fire endangers property. But the state’s fiscal crisis could short-circuit the system of mutual aid between California fire departments, with departments forced to focus limited resources on the home front.