CAL FIRE has exceeded its firefighting budget projection by an estimated $60 million, just six months into this fiscal year. But officials say the agency has been leaning on state reserve funds to cover overruns for years.
Fighting the Northern California wildfires in October cost nearly $250 million. The allocated firefighting budget for this fiscal year was $427 million and the actual estimated cost for the year so far is about $490 million.
Daniel Berlant with CAL FIRE said that amount includes only some of the cost of fighting the current wildfires in Southern California.
“This is one of the reasons the Governor has worked to ensure we have a rainy day fund, so that money can be moved over quickly and very easily," Berlant said.
He said the agency is used to going over its budget.
"With the fire activity that we've had over the last, really 10 years now, it's become very normal for us,” Berlant said.
For a number of years now, CAL FIRE has worked closely with the state’s finance department to get more funding throughout the fire season as needed, he said.
H.D. Palmer, Deputy Director of the California Department of Finance, said the legislature has to approve the use of reserve funds, but CAL FIRE always has immediate access to funding.
"There has never been, is not, and never will be, a situation where the state budget situation in any way slows down CAL FIRE from having the ability to get their assets into the air and on the ground,” he said.
Palmer says the state's budget reserve for emergencies (including fires) is currently at $1.4 billion.