May 31, 2013 7:20 PM by April Hansen, KSBY News
Local fire officials expect this year to be a record wildfire season, so fire departments across the state are on high alert, but because of federal budget cuts, some local fire crews are losing manpower.
Starting in July, Vandenberg Air Force Base Firefighters will face furloughs of up to 32 hours a month and the well-known Hot Shots program will be eliminated.
One Vandenberg firefighter says taking away these resources could slow down response time and crews' ability to fight fires.
Several major fires this year in Santa Barbara County have already charred thousands of acres of land and it's expected to get worse.
"It's the first day of June tomorrow and the base itself has had four fires in the month of May and then we've responded to two fires in the county," said Eric Garcia, a Vandenberg firefighter.
Garcia has been a Vandenberg firefighter for ten years.
He says it takes numbers to put out these flaming beasts.
"But with the reduction of force, I don't know if we will be able to assist, let alone support, as much as the base as we can properly," said Garcia.
When crews are reduced, he says fire departments' response time and coverage strength may suffer.
"You need an X amount of personnel to support the equipment and the resources for the fire to fight it," said Garcia.
Garcia's team responded to the recent White Fire that burned nearly 2,000 acres of the Los Padres National Forest.
He says losing firefighters to budget cuts could mean the community loses as well.
"As the resources get thinned out, whether the fire is in this county or other counties in the state, all the resources get shuffled. If the resources aren't there to backfield, it gets thinner and thinner as far as resources go," said Garcia.
The base firefighters' furloughs will last from July to September.
The Hot Shot program will be eliminated after the end of the fiscal year.
It's the only Department of Defense Hot Shot team in the country.
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