Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Can Budget-Strapped California Afford More Wildfires?

My struggling home state of California took another hit the past week, as rampant wildfires consumed trees, houses, buildings, etc. As such, the State has been forced to spend millions of dollars on supplies and labor fighting the fires, and assisting evacuees. However, as this article on Time.com pointed out, many are wondering how the budget problem riddled state can afford these expenses?

For more than a week, much of the Angeles National Forest has been an inferno as a ferocious fire, spurred by abnormally high temperatures and single-digit humidity, ripped through steep canyons, dense brush and forest untouched by flames for 60 years. The advancing fire has cut a moonscape swath through the middle of the mountain range that forms a barrier between the greater Los Angeles area and the Mojave Desert.

In addition to the lost lives of two firefighters, 76 destroyed homes and thousands of evacuees, the fire's financial toll has climbed to nearly $45 million. That has been the cost so far of a ground and air assault on the nearly 160,000-acre Station Fire, as it has been called, with more than 4,000 firefighters working the fire lines and an air fleet of 12 helitankers, seven helicopters and 11 airplanes — including a Boeing 747 and a DC-10 — pouring thousands of gallons of fire retardant on blazing hillsides. Only heroic work by firefighters saved the historic Mt. Wilson Observatory located 5,700 feet above Pasadena. (See pictures of this year's wildfires in California.)

But this season's firefighting in California comes just as the state has made vast and deep cuts in nearly all services to balance its books. Can California afford to fight fires given its budget woes? And when does the federal government step in? (What things should you save if your home is threatened by fire?)

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