Oklahoma officials anticipate problems with funding the state’s rural firefighting services if the partial federal government shutdown persists.
The Oklahoma Department of Agriculture’s forestry division received communication from the U.S. Forest Service not to suspend any activities on some of their federal grants, despite being unable to access the subsidies for a potential fire hazard, the Journal Record reported.
“If we do something and expect payments, we’re probably not going to get any money for a while,” said Mark Goeller, head of the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture’s forestry division. “Otherwise, we should continue work as normal.”
The forestry division is responsible for taking the lead in emergency management when handling wildfires across the state. There’s no option under Oklahoma law to discharge those duties.
Goeller’s division provides equipment ranging from bulldozers to fire engines, primarily on the eastern side of the state. He said division crews can request air assistance from the federal government. Those planes are still under contract and available, for now.
Most funding assistance in Oklahoma comes from the Rural Fire Defense 80/20 Reimbursement Grant program through the Agriculture Department. The grants are available to roughly 100 departments that serve communities with fewer than 10,000 people.
Buddy Myers, district chief of the Grady County Fire Department, contends rural districts like his still don’t get much direct federal financial aid unless there’s a FEMA emergency. He noted if local firefighters help in a FEMA-designated event, the Federal Emergency Management Administration will compensate equipment and manpower costs afterward.
Goeller and Myers desire a resolution being reached in the federal government before Oklahoma hits a dry season and the fires it will likely bring.
“January is typically our driest month with March-April producing our highest fire currents,” Goeller said. “It would have been a little disconcerting if this (shutdown) had occurred during last year’s fires.”
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