No Money for Firefighters, Thanks to Austerity.
Welcome to the wonders of austerity!
Grist: Tea Partiers who watched gleefully as the sequester slashed government spending are welcome to douse forest fires near their homes with teapots full of Earl Grey this summer. Across-the-board budget cuts mean federal wildfire fighting efforts could be overwhelmed.
The U.S. Forest Service will hire 500 fewer firefighters this year and 50 fewer fire engines will be available than previously expected, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced this week. The Interior Department also plans to pare back its firefighting crews.
The seasonal firefighting jobs are going up in smoke because of Congress’s inability to come up with a national spending plan. President Obama called for spending cuts and tax increases to help balance the budget, but Republicans would have none of the latter.
As they always are when it comes to anything other than military spending, prison-building, or corporate welfare, Republicans are being penny wise and pound foolish. In insisting on deep cuts to spending and in cheering on the sequester, they’ve managed to save $50 million in Forest Service spending — or what the pentagon spent about every half hour on a randomly chosen day in 2013. So we’ll throw $1.6 billion in a day at defense against foreign armies, but we’re not willing to spend that much in a year defending against natural disaster. You might have noticed, we don’t get invaded by foreign militaries every year. Spending on natural disasters is somewhat predictable, meaning you can set up an approximate budget for it. We’ve decided to stop doing this, because we’re smart like that.
The result is predictable.
Remains of two people have been found in an area burned by a wildfire that has destroyed at least 360 houses northeast of Colorado Springs.
El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said one person who was reported missing Wednesday was found safe, but crews on Thursday found the remains of another person reported missing. About an hour later they found the remains of a second person, he said.
The number of homes destroyed by the voracious wildfire, driven in all directions by shifting winds, was likely to climb as the most destructive blaze in Colorado history burned for a third day through miles of tinder-dry woods. It was 5 percent contained.
The destruction surpassed last June’s Waldo Canyon fire, which burned 347 homes, killed two people and caused $353 million in insurance claims just 15 miles to the southwest. The heavy losses were blamed in part on explosive population growth in areas with historically high fire risk.
OK, so this is going to cost more that $353 million in damage, we saved $50 million by firing firefighters, so that works out to one incredibly stupid decision by fiscal geniuses in Washington who are bad at math.
And, of course, this increased need for firefighters isn’t a temporary thing. It’s the new status quo, thanks in part to inaction by those same fiscal geniuses. “This year’s Western fire season began early with blazes in Southern California,” Grist reports, “a phenomenon that California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) blamed on climate change. Last week, the head of the U.S. Forest Service warned Congress that climate change is prolonging the annual wildfire season.”
So no, it’s not just an extremely bad fire season. It’s the new normal and will continue to get worse. We can’t spend money on fire fighting, we can’t fight global warming, we can just sit here and leak money like a sieve as the bills from natural disasters pile up, because that’s what you call your “fiscal conservatism.” Oh, and this all happens while we throw $1.6 billion in a day at a military developed for Cold War threats — you know, the kind of threats that happen to not exist anymore.
As long as we’re cutting things, maybe now would be a good time to rethink Republican austerity. It’s a luxurious extravagance we really can’t afford.
[photo via Wikimedia Commons]