While Texas Burns, Texas Republicans Could Cut Funds for Volunteer Firefighters by 75%

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On the road between Marfa and Fort Davis, one can drive miles without seeing a living thing – there is nothing left alive between the deep blue sky and ash-covered dirt – only some charred fence posts along the road remain.

In Fort Davis, the scars of the fire's path make many acts of heroism obvious. At house after house, one can see where the fire came right up to homes, then split before coming together on the other side to continue its wind-fueled death march. What happened is obvious on its face: residents – defying orders to evacuate – stood shoulder-to-shoulder with volunteer firefighters, and they never gave up on beating back the flames to save their homes. Armed with little more than garden hoses, shovels, and courage, most succeeded.

–an except from Harold Cook's excellent on-the-ground post on the Texas wildfires from his blog, Letters from Texas.

If you live in Texas, or watch the Weather Channel, you can't miss the regular coverage on the Texas wildfires. The Atlantic has a huge slideshow of devastating photos, if you want to see for yourself. For most of April, they have led the news — burning more and more acres across West Texas. 207 of Texas' 254 counties are under a burn ban. According to the Associated Press:

The Forest Service reported Sunday that the Possum Kingdom fire was 50 percent contained after burning 166 homes and two churches. The 2-week-old Trans-Pecos wildfire in West Texas was about 75 percent contained Sunday after destroying 23 homes and two commercial structures around Fort Davis a week ago, and an East Texas Piney Woods wildfire 90 miles northeast of Houston was 85 percent contained after burning 7,100 acres.

Reuters reports that, overall, 1.8 million acres of Texas land has already burned:

The amount of acreage burned in Texas in 2011 is almost at the record level set in 2006, when nearly 2 million acres were burned by wildfires. So far this year, more than 1.8 million acres have burned.”We're only in April, with some of the worst wildfire months still to come,” he said. “We will certainly break that record.” 

Here are the year-to-date totals on Texas' fires, according to today's Texas Forest Service management situation report:

Texas Fires

Given the fact that Texas will certainly break the record for the most acres of land that has ever burned, in state history, it is obscene that Texas Republicans — who control every level of state government, as they have for every year since 2003 — are planning to do this, according to KVUE news here in Austin, TX:

State funding for volunteer fire departments is taking a big hit. It is going from $30 million to $7 million. Those departments are already facing financial strains.

The State Firemen’s and Fire Marshals’ Association of Texas represents 21,000 state firefighters. The Association says more than 80 percent of volunteer firefighters are reporting taking a personal hit in the budget crisis. They have started using their own money to help pay for equipment and supplies.

“We've seen budget cuts, but this is the worst time that we've ever seen,” said Executive Director Chris Barron. “As far as the budget crisis and the fuel cost stuff for example continues to go up and it doesn't help us out any whatsoever, so with the rising fuel and the budget cuts from the state it's taken a great effect. I think the citizens and the public is going to see that.”

Most of the State of Texas is protected by volunteer departments. There are 879 volunteer departments compared to 114 paid departments and 187 departments that are a combination of both paid and volunteer firefighters. 

Here is KVUE's video report:


To summarize:

  • 1.8 million acres of Texas land has burned, guaranteeing Texas will have the worst year for wildfires in recorded history
  • So far this year local fire departments have saved over 10,000 structures from being burned
  • There are 879 volunteer fire departments in Texas, compared to 114 paid departments and 187 that are a combination of both
  • Texas Republicans have voted to cut funding for volunteer firefighters by over 75%.
By the way — Governor Perry's solution for all of this was simple: pray.  

ACTION – Donate to the Jeff Davis County Relief Fund if you want to help restore some of the West Texas fire damage. 


About Author

Phillip Martin

Currently the Research and Policy Director for Progress Texas and the Texas Research Institute, Phillip Martin writes occasional long-form pieces for BOR that promote focused analysis and insight into Texas politics. Born and raised in Austin, Phillip started working in politics in 2003 and started writing on BOR in the summer of 2005. Phillip has worked for the Texas Democratic Trust, the Texas Legislative Study Group, and now the Progress Texas family. He is a lifelong Houston Astros fan, a loyal Longhorn, and loves swimming at Barton Springs Pool.


  1. peter the bellhop on

    while Texas burns
    Our president appoints Ambassador Ryan Crocker to be teamed up with General Petraeus in Afghanistan all the while sitting on his hands and not declaring the effected areas a disaster zone. Add this one to our not getting a space shuttle, sure, no politics here folks…move along.

  2. But I thought Rick Perry wanted to secede
    from the U.S. At least he said as much during his 2010 campaign.  He also called Kay Bailey Hutchison Senator Bailout Hutchison. And now Rick Perry wants a federal bail out while he cuts budgets for fire fighters at the same time?  

    I guess this is what happens when we vote for a Governor who excels at one thing.  Getting elected by fooling the majority of folks.  

    • peter the bellhop on

      while Texas burns, he fundraises
      The Civil War ended any state's ability to secede. Remember, “we won, you lost”, elections(wars) have consequences. Where's the federal declaration? Can we expect anything from this president? With the many tornado's occurring or possible hurricanes this summer/fall, can we expect anything from the federal government? He takes our tax money willingly, then plays politics or golf and neglects his responsibility.

      Isn't it so nice to see former Bush appointees being selected or nominated for so many important post within this administration?

      Crocker to Afghanistan, Petraeus to CIA, whatever happened to that Moveon gem, “General betray us”? More rendition, more wiretapping…    

      • Tell that to Rick Perry
        next time he's out shilling for his donor sugar daddies.  Rick Perry did a really fine job of firing up the far right fringes of his Party (birther nut jobs, secessionists, Birchers, neo nazis and other garden variety racists).

        It seems to me that Rick Perry brings the worst of the very of worst of Texas into the stark shining sunlight for the rest of the world to see.  

        I am sure President Barack Hussein Obama will do a far better job of extending federal help to Texas than the incompetent W. did during Hurricane Katrina. Meanwhile Rick Perry and his tea party crazies can continue to bash the federal government 24/7/365.  Of course Rick Perry has no other choice but to distract folks from the fact that he works only for his fat cat sugar daddies.

        Meanwhile the spineless Governor can continue to pray for rain while he begs the feds for money while slashing funds for fire fighters.  I understand a witch doctor in Africa is praying for rain as well.  

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