TODAY   |  June 22, 2013

Cutbacks to fire control program as burning continues

The Obama administration is proposing a more than 30 percent cut to a federal program that removes dead trees and flammable underbrush, a catalyst for fires. The proposal bring up policy questions while surging wildfire forces 400 residents of South Fork, Colo. to evacuate. NBC’s Gabe Gutierrez reports

Share This:

This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> in colorado, firefighters are trying to hold back a wildfire that threatens to destroy an entire town. the federal government is cutting back to prevent the fires. that's leaving a lot of cities and towns scrambling to do it on their own.

>> reporter: with fire crews stretched to the limit -- and lives hanging in the balance .

>> i didn't think it would be this fast.

>> it's a total loss. my chimney is the only thing left standing.

>> reporter: a burning question as another surging wildfire is forcing 400 residents of colorado to evacuate.

>> give me water.

>> reporter: u.s. taxpayers are spending more to fight fires and washington is spending less. they are proposing a 30% cut to removing dead trees and brush. look at how quickly it can fuel a fire. with less focus on prevention, the forest service is forced to spend more once the fires are already burning.

>> we have to forecast better about where we are going to hit these fires. it's a complex equation that we have to deal with now with the west fire fighting assets.

>> reporter: in 1991 , fighting fires took up 13% of the service budget. last year, it was more than 40%. in arizona, local firefighters are taking matters into their own hands using local tax dollars that voters approve, the crews from flagstaff are clearing brush reducing fuel for potential fires.

>> it's not a matter of if it will occur. it's when and where. it will be dire if we don't take action to reduce the riske.

>> reporter: not all communities have the resources. it's a burning question with no simple answer.