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Federal Sequestration to Affect Firefighting Efforts in California

by Shawn M. Griffiths, published

federal sequestration mikeledray /

According to an article from Bloomberg, the impact federal sequestration has on California may result in bigger problems for the state than many previously realized. California is currently in the middle of a worse-than-usual wildfire season and the California National Guard's ability to fight these fires could soon be hindered significantly.

Challenges are certain to arise when 20 percent of the state National Guard's roughly 2,000 full-time technicians are furloughed, especially since most of these technicians work on the aerial vehicles that play a pivotal role in snuffing out potentially devastating wildfires. The guard recently received notice from the Pentagon that the furloughs are necessary to meet automatic spending cuts.

“It reduces our availability time by 20 percent, which during the fire season can be decisive,” Major General David Baldwin told Bloomberg. “If those furloughs go through, it will have a direct and immediate impact.”

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) is the first line of defense against wildfires in the state, but its resources are limited and if a fire gets too out of control, the department calls on the guard for help. In other words, the most devastating wildfires -- the ones that cause millions of dollars in property damage and displace hundreds, thousands, even hundreds of thousands of California residents -- always require involvement from the guard.

Matters become a little more complicated when considering the 2011 state budget cuts that reduced the Cal Fire crew size. Less engines available to respond to fires means the department is more likely to call on the state's National Guard for assistance. When asked if the state is willing to increase Cal Fire staffing, Governor Jerry Brown said he will not go back to an "era of make-believe" and will stand by the budget cuts.

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