FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- Federal officials told reporters Monday they are preparing for the worst this fire season. Severe drought conditions and beetle ravaged trees throughout the west combined with reduced firefighting budgets do not bode well for the coming weeks.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says the Forest Service will have 500 fewer firefighters this season. That’s five percent less manpower.
Vilsack says 45 million acres across the country need to be thinned or treated. But he says his agency is managing on a billion dollars less than it had five years ago due to across the board budget cuts.
"There’s no question there will be fewer acres treated," Vilsack said. "There will obviously be fewer firefighters. There will be fewer engines. Hopefully we’ll be able to manage this situation and make sure that people are protected and properties protected. I mean that’s the ultimate goal."
Even though the eastern states have had a mild fire season, fire experts said it will be a different story for the west.
"As we transition out of the what is typically the eastern southeastern fire season and into the western fire season. We’re confident we’re going to see above normal fire potential in those areas," said Jeremy Sullens, wildfire analyst for the National Interagency Fire Center.
Out west there's been severe drought conditions in place for quite some time. Very little precipitation has occurred since the beginning of 2013
California, for example, has seen less than 25 percent of its expected annual precipitation. Sullens expects "above normal significant fire potential" across the southwest and four corners area.