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How the Shutdown Affected Fire Prevention and Mitigation Work in California

During the Camp Fire in Northern California, President Donald Trump criticized the state's fire management strategy and issued an executive order calling for more "active management" of public lands. Ironically, the partial government shutdown initiated by the president delayed fire prevention and mitigation work in California, according to United States Forest Service officials.

The winter months are an important time for fire-ravaged states like California to lessen the impact of the coming fire season through prescribed burns. This technique allows firefighters to burn excess vegetation and hazardous fuels under controlled conditions to mitigate destruction and protect developed areas during peak wildfire season. Cooler temperatures and higher levels of precipitation make the winter the ideal time of year to conduct prescribed burns.

The five-week partial government shutdown fell during this window and furloughed many Forest Service employees, causing rangers in places like San Bernardino National Forest to miss ideal conditions for this critical part of wildfire management. Some fire departments also canceled or delayed crucial firefighter training this winter due to the shutdown, potentially causing crews to be underprepared for the coming fire season.

"We found there was a lack of progress and pause that can potentially put us at an exponential risk if we don't address it in double time," Representative Raul Ruiz (D-California) told the Desert Sun. "Summer's going to come with a vengeance."

According to San Bernardino National Forest Public Affairs Officer Zach Behrens, the delay doesn't necessarily mean that the Forest Service won't get the needed work done in time, since weather varies from year to year and prescribed burns are never conducted over the holidays.

"Despite potentially missed burn windows," Behrens told the Desert Sun, "we are working to complete our projects and feel challenges can be mitigated."