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Cuts could shut fire station

Local facility one of 20 at risk of closing
By: Penne Usher, Journal Staff Writer
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Proposed state budget cuts could close 20 Cal Fire stations statewide including Auburn's Bowman station. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has asked Cal Fire to cut more than $52 million from its budget, which amounts to about 10 percent of its general fund. To do that we are going to have to close a number of our facilities and reduce a number of our positions, said Daniel Berlant, department information officer for Cal Fire. He said the positions cut would not be in fire protection but in resource management and at the State Fire Marshal's office. He said Auburn's Cal Fire station is on a list of stations targets for proposed closure. There are other stations (in the Auburn area) that can respond in a timely manner if there were to be a wildfire, Berlant said. He said if the Auburn station were to close employees would be redistributed to other locations. No current employees would lose their jobs, Berlant said. The governor has also proposed a wildland firefighting initiative within the budget that would recommend a surcharge to property owners statewide, which would pay for all facilities to remain open, Berlant said. A 1.25 percent surcharge on residential and commercial insurance, like homeowners insurance, could bring in as much as $120 million to the state fire agency. It would increase our funding and we could increase our staffing to respond to wildland fires before they become infernos like the San Diego fires of last October, Berlant said. The possibility that the Auburn Cal Fire station could close is unsettling to some area residents, especially those in fire-prone areas such as Foresthill. For Placer County it would be a great loss, said Rose Perez, owner of the Pizza Factory in Foresthill. It's the main station. I wouldn't like to see it go. By all accounts Foresthill, which has its own fire station and a U.S. Forest Service station nearby, would not lose coverage in the event of another blaze like the September 2006 Ralston Fire that scorched 8,423 acres along the Middle Fork of the American River. Fire officials are encouraged that if the budget passes, along with the proposed wildland initiative, the closures won't become a reality. If the budget passes as is, no stations will be closed, Berlant said. It will increase fire protection and save money. The Journal's Penne Usher can be reached at penneu@goldcountrymedia.com or post a comment.