US braces for another bad fire year

Posted at: 03/12/2013 3:54 PM
Updated at: 03/12/2013 3:55 PM
By: Susan Montoya Bryan, The Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Despite the slowest start to a wildfire season in a decade, the head of the U.S. Forest Service says his agency is preparing for another busy year, but with fewer firefighters.

Chief Tom Tidwell tells The Associated Press that late winter storms have helped, but the South and Southwestern U.S. are expected to dry out heading into May and June.

That will give way to a season much like last year, when more than 14,500 square miles were charred. That's an area bigger than the state of Maryland.

A dozen lives were lost last year, and more than 2,200 homes and businesses were destroyed.

Tidwell says the agency's preparedness budget has been trimmed by 5 percent this year, meaning there will be about 500 fewer firefighters and 50 fewer engines.

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