Environment & Science

Wildfire-fighters warn 2016 could be bad in California

File: Firefighters attempt to save a burning house during the Valley Fire in Seigler Springs, California on September 13, 2015. The governor of California declared a state of emergency Sunday as raging wildfires spread in the northern part of the drought-ridden US state, forcing thousands to flee the flames.
File: Firefighters attempt to save a burning house during the Valley Fire in Seigler Springs, California on September 13, 2015. The governor of California declared a state of emergency Sunday as raging wildfires spread in the northern part of the drought-ridden US state, forcing thousands to flee the flames.
Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

The nation's primary wildfire-fighters say California could face a dangerous and difficult fire season this year despite a relatively wet winter.

U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Tuesday that a five-year drought has left 40 million dead and fire-prone trees in California.

They said 29 million trees died last year alone.

Vilsack said California's forests need much more rain and snow to recover fully from the drought.

Sounding frustrated and impatient, Vilsack repeated his plea for Congress to pay the cost of fighting the worst fires from disaster emergency funds, not the Forest Service budget.

He said firefighting consumed more than half the Forest Service budget last year, robbing money from forest management and other programs.

The Forest Service is part of the Agriculture Department.