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Forest Service to hire 500 fewer firefighters

Matthew Daly, Associated Press

A plane drops water to fight what has been called the Powerhouse fire in the rural community of Lake Hughes in northern Los Angeles County. Calif., Monday, June 3, 2013. At least six houses have been destroyed by the fire, nine more were damaged, and 2,800 people fled 700 homes in Lake Hughes and Lake Elizabeth, 45 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell says his agency will hire 500 fewer firefighters than last year, because of automatic spending cuts imposed by Congress.

Tidwell told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that his agency will still be able to fight wildfires across the West, however, in part because three new air tankers are being put into service, including one being used to combat a massive wildfire in southern California. Four more planes sought by the Forest Service have been delayed because of a protest by a losing bidder.

Tidwell says climate change has resulted in wildfire seasons that are 60 days longer than in the 1970s. Wildfires on average now burn twice as many acres as they did in the 1970s, with bigger, hotter fires far more common.