U.S. Wildfire Budget Goes Up in Smoke, Fires Worse Than Ever

An unnaturally warm winter and an even drier summer turned 2012 into one of the worst wildfire years in recent memory. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, 48,258 fires have scorched nearly nine million U.S. acres as of October. When compared to the 10-year average, 2.2 million more acres burned this year than usual.

And it's not getting any better.

Near the end of August, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service ran out of money to pay the firefighters, trucks and aircraft, reports the Washington Post. As a result, the Forest Service was forced to use funds from other forest management programs.

Unfortunately, most of those programs prevented wildfires in the first place by removing dry brush, dead wood, and other naturally flammable hazards. According to NIFC wildland fire analyst Jeremy Sullens, there's a good supply of burnable fuel still remaining out West this year, and the lack of normal fall rain isn't helping.

Although Congress recently paid the Forest Service and the Interior Department $400 million to make up for the drained budget, many blame legislators for not allocating enough funds in the first place. It cost $1 billion to fight the 2012 wildfires, and Congress only budgeted half of that.

While the $400 million has permitted fire prevention efforts to continue, officials are still struggling to contain the fires, especially in light of the unusually long wildfire season this year. The NIFC is predicting greater wildfire risks than normal for October in California and the Pacific Northwest.

For information about preventing wildfires, visit Firewise.org.