Forestry Commission concerned over budget cuts - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

Forestry Commission concerned over budget cuts

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JEFFERSON COUNTY - AL -

Hundreds of firefighters in Arizona continue to struggle with a massive wild fire.  The blaze has burned about 13 square miles and killed 19 firefighters. Higher humidity overnight is working in firefighter's favor. But thunderstorms Tuesday threatened to bring lightning, which could make matters worse. The fire remains uncontained.

Tonight we take a look at whether Alabama has the resources it needs, if a large wildfire happens here.

The Forestry Commission says it's gone from a $35 million budget to a $20 million budget - and 325 firefighters and employees down to 250. Those are numbers state agencies and local firefighters say is dangerous.

"Every time we lose a firefighter, it puts a stress on our resources," Coleen Vansant, Alabama Forestry Commission said. "We have slower response time, fires get bigger because we are not able to get to them as quickly."

State budget cuts left the Alabama Forestry Commission in a dangerous position.

"We have a tremendous aging fleet of wildfire equipment that we are having to work with along with the decrease in personnel," Vansant said.

The Adger fire 2 years ago was one of the largest - consuming about 3,000 acres and threatening nearby homes.

"We had all the resources we could put on that fire because so many homes were in direct threat. five counties were left without personnel in them," Vansant said.

In the past two years, many of our Central Alabama counties like Greene, Fayette, and Marshall closed their offices. Jefferson County has 4 forestry firefighters  Shelby County - has only one.

"Shelby County has predominantly had some pretty large fires," Captain Chaed Agee, Helena Fire Department said. "If they have a fire going on the south end of the county, and we have one on the west end of the county, we are going to have to wait for a forester to come with his equipment from another county - it could be Bibb County, it could be Tuscaloosa, but it will add a longer response to them being able to get there and help us control the situation."

The lack of  forestry employees leaves a burden in the hands of local volunteer and city fire departments.

"It's not a type of fire that we fight every day," Agee said. "When we need Forestry, we really need them. To have to wait on them to come from other counties because of their staffing situation, it puts a lot of houses and our personnel in danger waiting on them to come with their specific skills and tools."

The Forestry Commission says the good news this year is that we've had quite a bit of rain and moisture in the air. This week, there are no burn bans in effect for the Fourth of July.

 

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