Fiery rhetoric from California to feds over $18M fire debt

A California official says the federal government has failed to pay the state $18 million for fighting wildfires on federal lands last year.

Emergency Services Director Mark Ghilarducci said in a sharply worded letter to the U.S. Forest Service chief this week that failure to pay may force the state to stop responding to fires in national forests.

The letter says the forest service owes the money under longstanding commitments that coordinate and reimburse local firefighters.

Ghilarducci says the agency is illogically relying on a "sudden interpretation" of a 1955 law that prevents the government from paying volunteer firefighters.

The letter says a third of the state firefighting force is volunteers who deserve to be paid when called into action far from home.

The federal agency did not immediately comment.