Wildfire protection plan half-funded in Texas

By DANNY ROBBINS and PAUL J. WEBER | September 14, 2011 | 3:00 PM EDT

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Long before this month's historic wildfires in Texas, the state's forest service came up with a $20.4 million plan to stop the flames from starting or tamp them out before small blazes grew deadly and destructive.

Three years later, the plan is still only half-funded — a result of the weak economy, a strained state budget and what one former lawmaker calls a "dereliction of duty" by legislators who almost always prefer to spend money only after a crisis has unfolded.

In 2008, the Texas Forest Service made an insistent sales pitch for an ambitious wildfire protection plan. It called for adding more than 200 firefighters, creating rapid-response teams to quash small flare-ups, building advanced automated weather stations and establishing two training academies for wildfire crews.