Texas Forest Service Grant Money Will Change Criteria

by Anayeli Ruiz 
NewsWest 9

When it comes to fighting wildfires, it seems West Texas got short changed. If you can believe it, the threat of fire wasn't included when the Texas Forest Service was handing out the cash.

The Texas Forest Service has a grant program where about $128 million are given out to the volunteer fire departments for training and equipment, but a review found that 59 of the 74 counties that have high risk only got less than $1 million in grant money. This report criticized the Texas Forest Service for not considering wildfire risk as a factor.

The Texas Forest told NewsWest 9 that the factors they used to hand out aid is population size, distance to the nearest assistance and years of existence of the fire department. That would then create a rate system and they would divide them into regions and rate them out that way.

The Texas Forest Service told NewsWest 9 that before it was hard for them to keep track and know exactly what was burning and what wasn't. So in 2005, they launched a system where they asked local volunteer fire departments to submit data so that they could have the records of what burns and what doesn't. Now that they have this in place, they say they plan to factor that in to their system and locals hope this helps get them some aid.

"Look at us in West Texas and see what we cover and be receptive to West Texas. They have a job to do. They have committees that are there, I'm not faulting them for that and give us a better shot at getting some of these," Howard County Volunteer Fire Chief, Tommy Sullivan, said.

The new rating system according to them will begin in September and they will now take into consideration the wildfire threat for the community.

Officials told NewsWest 9 that these last months have really affected West Texas and they hope that they can help the volunteer fire departments in the future because they are the ones fighting the fires every day.