California may cut nearly 2,000 firefighters

May 5, 2009 7:05:23 PM PDT
Hundreds of California firefighters could lose their jobs. That's if voters reject the budget-balancing measures on the ballot.

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With summer starting after another year of drought, those firefighters could be badly needed.

Just in time for fire season, Governor Schwarzenegger signed an executive order to boost the state's emergency preparedness with more tools and firefighters.

He urged Californians to approve the special election ballot measures that'll give Cal-Fire, among other state agencies, the money it needs.

"I don't like to use scare tactics or anything like this, but fire protection, without any doubt, will suffer if those measures fail on May 19th," said Governor Arnold Schwarzennegger (R) California.

With most of the propositions currently unpopular with voters, the Governor has already prepped firefighter unions and chiefs on the worst case scenario if the measures go down in flames.

About $81 million would be slashed from Cal-Fire's budget, eliminating more than 600 full-time and 1,100 seasonal firefighting positions -- no doubt it will slow response time.

"We fight fire aggressively, and we get right on the fire. And if we don't have enough people to do it, in some instances, fires will get larger," said Cal-Fire Chief Del Walters.

Opponents to the ballot measures say the Governor's warning is a desperate attempt to boost support for the otherwise losing proposals.

"It's very disheartening to see the Governor use public safety as a threat. I think voters are not going to buy it," said Jon Coupal from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

But the Governor says he's just being honest.

Without voters help, $6 billion will have to be cut from the budget including Cal-Fire.

People who live near forestland are feeling nervous about maybe having to fend for themselves this fire season.

Bill Downey and Belinda Brunelle have property in the Sequoia National Forest.

"We are probably going to go back to a volunteer service where we're going to have to maintain our own water and do more work in order to protect. It's hitting home," said Brunelle.

In addition to the personnel's cut, the Governor's plan includes shutting down 11 conservation camps and 20 single-engine stations throughout California.

This new round of possible cuts is on top of the $16 billion state leaders have already chopped.

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