StateImpact on OETA: Budget Cuts Force Oklahoma to Rely on Other States to Fight Most Dangerous Wildfires

  • Joe Wertz

Years of cuts in funding appropriated by the Legislatures means Oklahoma is unable to replace retiring or exiting wild land fire experts and increasingly relies on other states to fight its largest, most dangerous wildfires.

On the March 24 episode of Oklahoma News Report, I told OETA host Susan Cadot that reduced funds to Oklahoma Forestry Services aren’t likely saving money, interviews and data suggest, because the state is forced to hire out-of-state crews to fight fires like the vast March 2017 fire that torched more than a thousand square miles in northwestern Oklahoma.

Those out-of-state crews are expensive. And they aren’t called until after dangerous wildfires are ablaze, unlike state wildfire teams, which are on standby and can be staged across the state if hazardous wildfire conditions threaten. State wildfire experts also work in the off-season to train local fire departments on wild land firefighting techniques, a value officials say is lost if those positions aren’t filled.