California Tells Feds: Pay Up Or We’ll Stop Fighting Fires

California is attempting to blackmail the Trump Administration: Pay us, or we’re going to stop fighting fires.

The state’s head of emergency services wrote a letter to the Forest Service saying that the feds have not paid as many as $18 million owed to them and if they don’t pay up, they may stop fighting wildfires in national forests.

“I cannot continue to support the deployment of resources to protect federal land that ultimately may bankrupt our local governments,” Ghilarducci said in the letter sent Monday to Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell, Fox News reports.

Since the federal government has failed to meet the deadlines to make payments to local fire jurisdictions, it’s hard for these small communities – with budget shortfalls of their own – to make ends meet without payment.

Rich Webb, fire chief of the Linda Fire Protection district, said that some localities were just recently reimbursed for a fire at Sequoia National Forest that burned last summer. Other Northern California counties are still waiting for payment.

“They’re frustrated to the point where they’re considering not responding to Forest Service fires anymore,” Webb said. “Why participate in this agreement if we’re not being reimbursed? … That’s going to affect the entire mutual aid system throughout the state.”

Almost half of the land in California is federal land, and most of that is forest land. It’s a long-standing dispute between local fire agencies that fight the fires on federal lands and Washington.

Through mutual aid agreements, these wildfires are fought with a combination of local, state and federal firefighters that often send them hundreds of miles from home. Massive encampments that sprout up at big wildfires include bean counters who tally the costs of fighting fires and figure out how to reimburse the many agencies helping out, Fox reports.

What’s unusual is not the disagreement in payment, which is pretty common, but making the dispute public.

“It’s troubling where California feels it needs to go public with its disagreement,” Char Miller, a professor of environmental analysis at Pomona College said. “It seems to me this is not just a turf war, but a reflection that this very delicate cross-agency, cross-jurisdiction cooperation is fraying at the seams and that’s bad news as the fire season roars away in California.”

The feds are supposed to repay local governments within 60 days but more than 90 percent of payments miss that deadline.

So will California actually stop fighting fires on national forest land? It’s almost unthinkable, but then again, this is California.

Robert Gehl

About Robert Gehl

Robert Gehl is a college professor in Phoenix, Arizona. He has over 15 years journalism experience, including two Associated Press awards. He lives in Glendale with his wife and two young children.