FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 14, 2006
MORE FOREST FIREFIGHTERS NEEDED
( Columbia, SC) -- South Carolina’s ability to fight forest fires is lagging behind neighboring states, according to figures compiled by the SC Forestry Commission. Officials are now questioning whether the state could cope with a severe fire season.
Forestry Commission Director Bob Schowalter said his agency has lost more than 50 firefighting positions in the last 15 years. “Our force just isn’t adequate for a bad season, and a bad season is long overdue,” he said.
At present, each SC Forestry Commission firefighter is responsible for protecting more than 62,000 acres of forest land. In Georgia, one firefighter protects about 47,000 acres, and in North Carolina there is one firefighter per 25,000 acres.
Schowalter said fewer firefighters means more forest fire losses. South Carolina’s forest fire losses are 45% higher proportionately than North Carolina’s and 22 % higher than Georgia’s.
In addition to forest losses, Schowalter noted about 40 South Carolina families lose their homes to forest fire each year. This number is expected to increase with continued development in rural areas.
Schowalter is asking the legislature for $2.8 million to bolster the state’s forest firefighting capacity. The funds would be used to hire firefighters, improve response time, and replace aging firefighting equipment. The money would also restore permanence to fire-qualified positions presently funded through short-term federal grants.
For more information, contact: Ken Cabe, 803-896-8820 or 803-667-1050.