For Lack of Glass-Steagall: The Country Is Burning While Budgets Are Cut
June 10, 2011 • 6:50AM

As of about 3 PM EST yesterday afternoon, the Wallow Fire in Arizona had burned 389,000 acres and is still completely uncontained. About 2,500 firefighters have been deployed to fight the fire, but, as reported elsewhere, there's been great difficulty getting firefighters on the line because of the ruggedness of the terrain and the high winds. "We don't want to put firefighters in front of the fire," for safety reasons, a spokesman for the National Inter-agency Fire Center told EIR today.

But it isn't just Arizona that's burning. According to news reports, there are 43 wildfires burning in Alaska, including the Delta Junction fire about 100 miles southeast of Fairbanks, which has burned 51,750 acres, and the Hastings Fire of 24,000 acres, which is near Fairbanks. There are about 830 firefighters fighting the Hastings Fire and another 326 assigned to the Delta Junction Fire.

Also burning is an area of Miami-Dade County in Florida close to a Miccosoukee Indian reservation. Fire officials say the fire is 23-percent contained and has burned 28,000 acres, and while the fire doesn't seem to have threatened populated areas away from the reservation, smoke is wreaking havoc with travel, as an important commuter route has been closed for several days. One fire official said, "It's stubborn, feisty, and unpredictable." And there are dozens of fires burning in Colorado and New Mexico, as well.

As the season progresses, the fire danger is expected to travel north and up to higher elevations, and just as municipal fire departments have seen their budget — and thus their capabilities — slashed, so have state fire agencies. Last month the California state assembly voted up a budget that cuts $30 million from CalFire, the state's fire-fighting agency. A Cal Fire spokesman said the agency will absorb the cut by reducing the number of firefighters per truck from 4 to 3, a reduction of more than 700 firefighters, all of whom will be seasonal hires.

Also, last month, the Texas state legislature considered a budget that slashes $34 million in funding from the Texas Forest Service, the biggest chunk of which will come out of grants to local volunteer fire departments. Volunteers make up 80 percent of the state's firefighting force and respond to 90 percent of wildfires. The agency currently has $135 million in backlogged requests from volunteer fire departments. The Outer Banks Sentinel reported on May 9 that efforts to control a fire in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina were being hampered by budget cuts that cost the state-owned air tanker that was used for dropping retardant on fires.