Press Releases

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today pressed top Forest Service and Agriculture Department officials to quickly fill an increasingly large number of firefighter vacancies in California.

The request by Senator Feinstein, Chairman of the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, came in a week when California was hit by 13 wildfires in a 72-hour period.

Earlier this year, Senator Feinstein directed officials to resolve Forest Service firefighter retention issues ahead of the fire season. In April, Senator Feinstein specifically urged officials to develop a concrete retention plan that provides short- and long-term solutions for filling critical firefighting vacancies and improving morale.

Following is the text of Senator Feinstein’s letter:

June 12, 2008

The Honorable Mark Rey
Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Washington, D.C.   20250

The Honorable Gail Kimbell
Chief
United States Forest Service
Washington, D.C.  20250

Dear Mr. Rey and Ms. Kimbell,

In light of the 13 fires in the last 72 hours in California, I write to follow up on my previous letters regarding Forest Service fire staffing levels for the current fire season. 

It has come to my attention that since our last correspondence, the Forest Service has actually lost at least another 17 firefighters, bringing the vacancy rate up to 8.5 percent.  This is unacceptable. Considering the conditions and tragic consequences, I believe that attaining a full corps of 4,432 federal firefighters in Region Five, and developing a long-term retention plan to keep these positions filled in the coming years, should be a top priority for the Forest Service.

I am also concerned about reports that as of Friday, June 6, 2008, only 186 of the agency's 276 engines were available to respond to fires.  With the hot, dry, and windy conditions that led to the 13 major fires in California, I believe the agency should have been able to muster a stronger force.  This is only further evidence that the Forest Service must act quickly to fill these critical staffing positions.

In California this year there have already been nearly 2,000 wildland fires that have burned almost 25,000 acres; dozens of homes have been destroyed; and there have been several civilian and firefighter injuries.  And all signs indicate that things will only get worse.  In some areas fuel conditions are worse than at any point in the 27-year recorded history of these measurements, and across the State it is tinder-dry.  I fear that today’s fires will not be the worst we see this year, and we must be prepared.

Again, I urge you to make the full staffing of Region Five a top priority for the Agency and attain the necessary 4,432 federal firefighters as soon as possible.  As Chairman of the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, I stand ready to assist the Forest Service should you require any further resources or additional assistance to meet your staffing level goals.

Sincerely,


Dianne Feinstein
Chairman, Subcommittee on the Interior,
Environment and Related Agencies


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