Fire Alert

Forest Service seeks more firefighting money

With fire season still in full swing

Wildfire season not over; funds running out

BEND, Ore. - The High Desert has been getting a cooldown welcomed by many, but fire season is far from over.

"Sometimes that just affects those lighter fuels and means they wouldn't burn so quickly but they often don't have an impact on those heavy fuels," Deschutes National Forest spokeswoman Kassidy Kern said Thursday.

The change in temperatures won't cut the fire season any shorter, which traditionally runs through mid-September or mid-October.

The long and heavy fire season in the Pacific Northwest is, however, burning through the federal budget.

"I would say that this was a more expensive year for the Pacific Northwest," Kern said.

The U.S. Forest Service reported that half of its budget went toward fighting wildfires. That's up from just 17 percent in 1995 -- a whopping 200 percent increase in nine years.

"It takes more money to fight fires, partially because of larger fires, partially because our seasons are longer," Kern said.

If the Forest Service has to spend more money on fighting wildfires, it has to borrow money from other programs, some of which are designed to prevent wildfires.

"Any kind of thing that would help us continue that restoration work would be great. Right now, that's not what we have, so we work with what we have," Kern said.

Now, the Forest Service has asked Congress for a budget increase. Sen. Ron Wyden D-Ore.,, has spearheaded a bipartisan bill that would change the way wildfires are funded.

"One percent of those infernos ought to be treated like the major natural disasters they are, like other natural disasters, such as floods and hurricanes," Wyden said in a speech on the Senate floor.

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