Texas Wildfires 2011: Was Rick Perry Wrong to Cut Firefighters’ Budget?

OPINION

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Raging Wildfires
The dry summer conditions are causing the 735 wildfires in four Australian states.

The state of Texas has been battling wildfires for almost a year now. The wildfire season began in November last year, and Gov. Rick Perry and cash-strapped state lawmakers took a stance against raising taxes and against putting their hands too deeply into the states rainy day fund.

So in order to save some money, Perry and GOP allies slashed funding for the agency responsible for fighting wildfires ? in the midst of a historic wildfire season that's seen more than 2 million acres burned by fire.

The Texas Forest Service is slapped with about $34 million in budget cuts over a two-year period, which is roughly a third of the agency's total budget. The Forest Service reportedly has about 200 firefighters and offers assistance grants to volunteer fire departments.

Given that vehicles do wear and tear, and fuel price is, let's just say not as low as we want them to be, any savings right now would be good, right?

Well let's see.

When the state of Texas managed to do a good thing and balanced the state's more than $20 billion budget deficit, it ended up paying dearly for it.

More than 50 wildfires are raging through Texas, draining resources and the state is calling on the feds for help.

On Tuesday, about three days after fires started burning in Central Texas, Perry had expressed his frustration that federal firefighting support to include equipment help from Fort Hood, hasn't made it way to the firefighters battling the inferno.

Perry who is on the GOP ticket gunning for the White House has made it clear he has his eye set on federal agencies should he be wearing the Presidential hat.

As Digital Journal reported, if elected, Perry said feds won't know what hit 'em,' and said that Texas should be the model for job creation in the U.S.

Well, Perry, this is what has hit you.

Volunteer firefighters in Texas make up almost 80 percent of your state's firefighting force, and they are the first responders to 90 percent of the state's wildfires.

Volunteer programs are our No. 1 defense, Forest Service Director Tom Boggus told Reuters, which also reported that since 2002, the Forest Service has given out $153 million in grants that have paid for 44,000 sets of protective clothing, 1,200 fire engines and funded the training of about 34,000 firefighters.

And it seems the financial situation for Texas firefighters is so dire that many of them are reportedly using their personal money to help pay for supplies and equipment.

We've seen budget cuts, but this is the worst time that we've ever seen, Chris Barron, executive director of the State Firemen's and Fire Marshal's Association of Texas told KVUE News back in March.

Baron also told KERA, a public media for north Texas that this legislative cuts means that fire departments will not be able to purchase new wildland gear and that they won't be able to purchase protective clothing and trucks.

Barron also added that cuts to that grant program will affect some departments' ability to respond to future fires.

The Forest Service itself lost employees, and that means that there's going to be fewer of them out there to help us, Baron pointed out to KERA, which reported that 90 full-time positions were lost Sept. 1.

That also means they're going to have to call upon national resources to assist, which is quite expensive to be bringing people from California to assist with these incidents, Baron said. And you know, the bills are not cheap.

Worst yet, two people have lost their lives so far in the widespread blaze.

 

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