Governor: Emergency funds not enough for bad fire season
CARSON CITY – Gov. Kenny Guinn said Wednesday that with a potentially serious fire season just weeks away, the big problem this year is going to be money to fight wildfires.
“What I’m extremely concerned about is the financial situation the state finds itself in,” he told state and federal fire officials who met at the Capitol to brief him on the dangers this season.
They advised Guinn a combination of leftover fuels from last year and a wet winter that is feeding rapid growth of cheatgrass and other burnable plants this spring will create a dangerous situation when those fuels all dry out in June and July.
Guinn said that’s not good when the pot of emergency money the state has for wildfires is the lowest it has been in years. The contingency fund started off with more than $12 million when the 2005 Legislature adjourned a year ago. Rising utility bills for state agencies along with other unexpected costs have forced the Board of Examiners and Legislative Interim Finance Committee to spend nearly all of that money. Guinn said that when the next series of allocations are made at the June IFC, there may be less than $1 million left.
That amount won’t go far in a bad fire season. Carson City’s Waterfall fire in 2004 cost more than $8 million to fight.
The only way to replenish the IFC contingency fund is a special session of the Legislature.
Guinn told state forester Pete Anderson and Mike Dondero of the Nevada Fire Board they should prepare a briefing for legislators explaining the need for funding – especially the impact of rising fuel costs on firefighting efforts this year.
Dondero told Guinn fuel prices will cause substantial increases especially in aviation costs if there are major fires this year.
Guinn said they need to be able to explain to lawmakers that, even if there are fewer and smaller fires than last year, it might cost more to fight them because of fuel prices.
“If fires come, we will get the money,” said Guinn. “But we want to be prepared to get it quickly.”
Anderson said the danger is still relatively low in Northern Nevada because the grasses and brush haven’t had a chance to dry out yet. But, he said, higher temperatures and winds in Southern Nevada are already drying out combustible vegetation, creating the potential for early season fires there. Federal agencies have already issued orders banning open fires and imposing other restrictions in Southern Nevada to try to prevent fires.
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