The April wild fires that burned nearly 20,000 acres of Horry County land are still smoldering, but under control. Recent fires in the area sparked a response from the South Carolina Forestry Commission, and State Forester Gene Kodama sent a letter to an editor calling for South Carolina residents to prepare for more wild fires. Kodama says the Forestry Commission is always prepared, but the economy makes it harder.
“What has happened is that the equipment that we have is aging very rapidly, and this year; for example, we have essentially zero money to replace. To maintain an adequate fire fighting force, readily available, fully functional, and safe, you have to replace aging equipment as you might expect, and what we have scheduled is to replace those units,” says Kodama.
Kodama says budget cuts are hitting the replacement cycle of these units- a bulldozer and a plow. Right now, there are 166 units across the state, but if the Commission continues to not get funding, and the units grow old and unsafe, causing harm.
“When those units get unsafe and unreliable, we will not be able to use them, so the number goes down, and therefore, as numbers goes down, response times to fires lengthens, and the size of fires grows, property damage gets much greater, and the potential for loss of life escalates dramatically,” says Kodama.
Because of this, Kodama says there’s enough reasons to call for help from state government.
“We want to be able to respond, as we are mandated by law, to protect the resources of the state, including lives and property. So, what we asked for last year, I think it was $3.5 million just for equipment. So, we basically asked for one year’s worth of replacement money,” says Kodama.
Forestry is the largest industry in the state, having nearly a $17.4 billion economic impact in the state. Kodama says it’s important they get this help, not just for the State Forestry Commission, but South Carolina’s economy as a whole.
“You also will not get companies that want to invest in South Carolina come into the state if you don’t have protection. Just like an industry looking for a site, they’re not going to go somewhere where there’s not resources there to support it, and they’re not going to go somewhere where there’s not adequate wild fire control, or structural fire control, they’ll go to another location or another state,” says Kodama.
Kodama says “If we fail to plan, we plan to fail.” He wants to urge homeowners that the stakes are high with hot, dry weather, and another wild fire could strike any time.