Congressman pushes for US to pay volunteers fighting fires on federal land

California

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) – U.S. Rep. Josh Harder is pushing for the federal government to pay volunteer firefighters in California when they fight fires on federal land.

Harder, D-Modesto, said Thursday volunteer firefighters told him they may not be able to help during the fire season because “they can’t afford to take time off their regular jobs” due to the pandemic.

Some in the Central Valley say they have been paid for fighting fires on land owned by the state, according to Harder. But he said they do not get paid if the fire is on land owned by the federal government. 

U.S. Forest Service Chief Victoria Christiansen responded to the request by saying volunteer firefighters “definitely should be getting paid for their services on federal land. No doubt. No question about that.”

California currently faces other challenges for the upcoming fire season. 

The state’s firefighting program that enrolled people in prison to fight fires has seen its numbers dwindle. 

At one point, Cal Fire had 168 hand crews, the majority of them coming from the state’s prison system. As of Feb. 7, there were 51.

And an effort to increase the number of firefighters in California could cost the state millions. 

Currently, hiring is underway for 1,400 extra firefighters.

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