CalFire budget cut may reduce fire suppression effectiveness

In January we wrote about a study  which concluded that increasing an engine crew from three to four firefighters improves the efficiency in laying 1,200 feet of hose by 41 percent, or 8.5 minutes. Now that CalFire has reduced the staffing on their engines from four to three, the results on at least one incident appear to corroborate the study.

Here is an excerpt from an article in the Fresno Bee, titled “Firefighers put in harm’s way with fewer people, fewer resources”:

…But, under state budget cuts, Cal Fire was battling the blaze with three firefighters per engine instead of the normal four-man crews used in the wildfire season. They couldn’t get water around the fire in time. It jumped the ridge and devoured the next canyon.

The incident on what one fire captain called “a standard wildfire” stoked fear over whether staffing cuts are affecting first-strike capabilities of firefighters to stave off severe wildland events.

“I really thought we could catch it,” Cal Fire Capt. Doug Freeman said. “Basically, with the fatigue factor [of using a three-man crew], we just couldn’t.”

Freeman summoned reinforcements as the blaze that he thought could have been kept to fewer than 10 acres spread to 133 acres and cost $300,000 to put out.

As California closed a gaping budget deficit this year with sweeping cuts to numerous agencies, it saved $34 million by cutting 750 seasonal Cal Fire firefighters. That means one fewer person per engine unit to haul thousands of feet of hose lines and share the exhausting physical rigors of battling wildfires.

In the Sacramento region, the cuts mean a total of 29 fewer Cal Fire firefighters in El Dorado and Amador counties and 44 fewer firefighters assigned to the Nevada, Yuba and Placer County region.

Cal Fire’s Madera, Mariposa and Merced county region lost 37 seasonal firefighters, and Fresno, Kings and Tulare counties are operating with 50 fewer firefighters in the peak fire season.


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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

3 thoughts on “CalFire budget cut may reduce fire suppression effectiveness”

  1. How many at calfire are making $90K+ a 90% pension when they retire? For what? Most undertrained, over valued profession. Go to any rural calfire station and see what they do for several hours of a couple days. You won’t be impressed. But when there is a fire, they do their jobs.

  2. Kevin – some folks will argue that the level of fire protection offered by the CDF/CalFire is well beyond that offered in other States with WUI situations, and that some downward adjustment is warrented under today’s economic situation.
    The same argument can be made for prisons, social welfare programs, education, transportation and medical benefits. Where do the priorities fall out, who loses out, and when do the tax-payers decide to live with and pay for the consequences of their life-style choices?
    This is not just a wildland fire issue!

  3. I feel as though I pay for the service already with state taxes and maybe we should cut the upper level management and we would have more money to support the state.


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