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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Fires and Federalism

The Station Fire, which has burned more than 160,000 acres of California, is a case study in federalism.

The federal government is playing a major role. The fire has taken place largely in the Angeles National Forest, which is under the jurisdiction of the United States Forest Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The fight against the blaze has also involved state government (the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire), county government (the Los Angeles County Fire Department) and a variety of local governments including the Los Angeles Fire Department -- separate and distinct from the county fire department -- as well as fire departments in Glendale and other communities.

The fire has involved a remarkable degree of cooperation among these levels of government. But there has been conflict, too. Local officials fault the Forest Service for failing to clear brush before the fire. "We want to see other agencies ... act responsibly in taking care of their brush," Los Angeles Fire Marshal Jim Hill told the Los Angeles Daily News. "We don't think that this sets a very good example for a federal agency."

Time reporter Kevin O'Leary points out that the Forest Service is paying most of the cost. he quotes Forest Service spokesperson Caleb Weaver: "One of the ways the federal government is supporting the state and local government in the Station Fire effort is that the U.S. Forest Service is providing over 1,600 of the 4,800 personnel fighting the fire."

One of the authors of this textbook witnessed the fire up close. Note the Los Angeles Fire Department Skycrane helicopters: