By Chris | February 26, 2008
I’ve been reading up on the economics of fighting wildfires in the West. As an undergraduate, I had a few friends who fought wildfires during the summer. Most of them worked for the U.S. Forest Service, but one was employed by a private company which received government contracts. The use of private contractors has become more prevalent over the last decade. Contractors offer public firefighting agencies increased firefighting power during busy seasons. Insurance companies also hire them to protect valuable homes. And, to my surprise, these companies hire lots of immigrants. From the a 2006 New York Times article:
As many as half of the roughly 5,000 private firefighters based in the Pacific Northwest and contracted by state and federal governments to fight forest fires are immigrants, mostly from Mexico. And an untold number of them are working here illegally.
Some fire company owners estimate that 10 percent of the firefighting crews are illegal immigrants; government officials will not even hazard a guess.
The private contract crews can be dispatched anywhere in the country through the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho — and in recent years have fought fires from Montana to Utah and Colorado, as well as Washington and Oregon — anywhere that fires get too big or too numerous for local entities to handle.