The range fires that dotted the state over the past six months or so seem to have taken on lives of their own. The high winds, low humidity and lack of significant precipitation have turned the state into a powderkeg.

The Tulsa World reports the state's forestry division had spent 97 percent of its budget before the end of December. That money was supposed to last through June of this year. They've had to borrow money from future budgets in order to pay this year's bills.

Oklahoma's firefighting season normally begins in February and lasts through March. We also usually get a dry spell in August which increases fire dangers. Since Nov. 1, more than 380,000 acres have been burned and more than 220 homes and businesses have been destroyed.

Oklahoma lawmakers will be asked to bail the department out. One proposal offered -- with no pun intended -- is to take money out of the state's "rainy day" fund and help rural fire departments that have been hit hard by the fires.

Rural fire departments are cash strapped. Some money will be forthcoming since President Bush has issued a disaster declaration for the state. But that may be too little too late.

The World reports some departments have had to drain diesel fuel from disabled vehicles to help keep their firefighting vehicles running. An early infusion of cash from the state would prevent such situations.

In populated areas, the fires are just as disastrous as floods and tornadoes. At one time, before the countryside was populated with homes, range fires were routine. They served to clear out the underbrush and rid pastures of those pesky red cedar bushes that now are claiming pastureland.

Firefighters have envisioned establishing an endowment fund that would dispense grants to fire departments that are stressed by wildfires. It seems like that purpose would be served by asking lawmakers to pull from the rainy day fund when the need arises.

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