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California's wildfires aggravate budget woes

Two months into the fiscal year, the state has used more than half its firefighting budget. The LA flames appear to be spreading, but a week of firefighting may be starting to pay off.

By David MonteroCorrespondent / September 2, 2009

California’s wildfires are not only burning trees – they’re burning state cash, and setting off a cascade of other problems in the state. Already, as the fires appeared to have spread in the past 24 hours, they have delayed a ballot count in two special elections.

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Reuters reports that the fires couldn’t have come at a worse time, exacerbating a huge deficit and other woes caused by the economic downturn.

California's wildfires are burning through state cash at an alarming rate, with the government spending more than half its annual firefighting budget just two months into the fiscal year -- even before the traditional fire season began on Tuesday.
The state's ballooning budget deficit and sharp drop in revenues resulting from the recession have forced delays in replacing aging firefighting equipment, including 40-year-old bulldozers.
The firefighting effort could face new strains if the prison system, also trying to cut costs, releases 27,000 or more low-risk inmates -- the type the firefighting agency depends on for cheap, abundant labor.

Despite the budget problems, California officials insist they have the money to keep dousing the flames, the Contra Costa Times reports.

Cal Fire officials said recent budget cuts affecting their agency have not hindered firefighters' efforts to combat wildfires…
[Cal Fire Battalion Chief Julie] Hutchinson, of Cal Fire's Riverside County unit, and spokesman Bill Peters, of the San Bernardino County unit, both said budget cuts have not limited the number of firefighters or equipment that commanders are able to send to the fires."
They (budget cuts) really didn't affect this area. We get two new fire engines that we purchased last year. Our staffing is the same," Peters said.

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