US departments urged to become year-round wildfire agencies

California’s U.S. senators and nearly two-dozen representatives asked the Agriculture and Interior departments on Monday to transition their agencies to a year-round wildland workforce because blazes are no longer limited to traditional fire seasons.

The move would require reclassifying more seasonal federal firefighter positions as permanent, said a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.

"As California and the West continue to contend with historic and destructive wildfire seasons, it has become clear that we are entering a ‘new normal’ in which increasingly intense wildfires wreak havoc during a nearly year-round fire season," it said.

The letter signed by Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla and 21 members of Congress notes that 57% of forest land in California is owned by the U.S. government.

The request came after a disastrous 2020 in which more than 9,900 fires burned 4.25 million acres, killed 33 people and destroyed nearly 10,500 homes and other buildings.

"And this year, we are already well above average for both the number of fires and acres burned," the letter said.

Although it is still early spring, a wildfire erupted during the weekend in Siskiyou County and grew to more than 870 acres. It was 80% contained Monday, Cal Fire said.