Heading into the hottest and driest months of the wildfire season, the Department of the Interior is short hundreds of firefighters, a result of recruitment problems and the longest federal government shutdown in history.
Based on interviews and internal agency memos obtained through a public records request, The Times found that the agency has about 500 fewer firefighters available than expected — a roughly 10% shortfall.
Nearly 60% of California’s 33 million acres of forest is owned and managed by two federal agencies, the Interior Department and the Forest Service. They are often aided by state firefighters with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection — the source of a recent dispute in which the Forest Service threatened to withhold millions of dollars in back pay owed to the state for battling wildfires on federal lands.
Officials at the National Interagency Fire Center, which coordinates federal wildfire response, said that the Interior Department had budgeted for a firefighting workforce of about 5,000 this year. In actuality, an Interior spokeswoman said it has 4,500 firefighting personnel and no plans to hire more.
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