SAN ANTONIO — Long before this month's historic wildfires in Texas, the state's forest service came up with a $20.4 million plan to stop the flames from starting or tamp them out before small blazes grew deadly and destructive.
Three years later, the plan is still only half-funded – a result of the weak economy, a strained state budget and what one former lawmaker calls a "dereliction of duty" by legislators who almost always prefer to spend money only after a crisis has unfolded.
In 2008, the Texas Forest Service made an insistent sales pitch for an ambitious wildfire protection plan that called for adding more than 200 firefighters, creating rapid-response teams to quash small flare-ups, building advanced automated weather stations and establishing two training academies for wildfire crews.
"We cannot over-emphasize the protection aspects of this plan," officials wrote in their request for money. When fully funded and implemented, the program was "guaranteed to protect lives and properties."(Read more...)