Wildfires point out Alabama Forestry Commission budget issues

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MORGAN COUNTY, Ala. - As wildfires continue to burn throughout the state, the Alabama Forestry Commission says they're stretching their budget to match the need.

The state's ongoing budget issues aren't helping.

"In the past five years, we've experienced probably a 55% cut in our funding," said North Regional Forester Terry Ezzell. "And then when we add the expense of all these fires, it's put us in a pretty bad predicament right now."

He says they have 90 fewer employees than they did in years past. They're trying to avoid layoffs but with these fires there's now a squeeze in other areas.

"We have an increase in fuel, we have an increase in repair, and also because we have to shift resources, we have an increase in travel expenses for people," said Ezzell.

Ezzell says we started experiencing the drought in late July. But the new fiscal year with the new budget started in October. Since then we've had more than 2,100 fires affecting about 26,000 acres.

"Just from October first to now, I think we've spent a million and a half extra dollars."

Their revenue comes from federal grants, timber and property taxes, and the Alabama general fund. Money is low in all three areas. Last week they got quick relief from an emergency fund released by Governor Bentley.

Now, they're trying to stretch what's left for the upcoming fire season in spring.

Ezzell says this week's rain will help a little bit, but says we need three days of continuous drizzling to bring us out of this drought long-term.