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The Federal Government Won’t Pay Back California’s Firefighting Costs. What Happens When the Next Fire Hits?

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President Donald Trump speaks with Gavin Newson, who was lieutenant governor of California at the time, as they view damage from the Camp fire in Paradise, California, on November 17th, 2018.

While President Donald Trump has threatened for months to cut federal funding for fighting California’s wildfires, another dispute has been simmering beneath the surface: According to reports this week from the Sacramento Bee and the Los Angeles Times, the United States Forest Service is refusing to reimburse California’s local fire departments for the cost of fighting fires on federal land last year.

For nearly 60 years, local departments in the state have relied on some assistance from the federal government, now guaranteed in a 2015 cost-sharing plan called the California Fire Assistance Agreement. Set to expire in 2020, this agreement faces challenges under the Trump administration, which has previously threatened to cut off fire assistance in what many believe is an overtly political move.

After the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) asked again for reimbursement, representatives from the Forest Service conducted an audit and accused the state of overbilling. It’s now withholding $9.3 million of the $72 million California requested last year. Officials warn the financial loss could drastically impair firefighting efforts in the state—just as the typical fire season is about to begin.

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