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Wildfires Exhausting Forest Service Budget

The U.S. Forest Service is diverting $600 million to fight more than 50 fires across the West.

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More than 50 wildfires continued to burn throughout the West on Thursday, but the U.S. Forest Service is running out of funds to fight the blazes.

[PHOTOS: Wildfires Tear Across U.S.]

Forest Service spokesman Larry Chambers told the Associated Press the agency was diverting $600 million from timber, recreation and other areas to fill the void left by the need to fight wildfires in Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

A helicopter makes a drop while battling the Beaver Creek Fire north of Hailey, Idaho. (Ashley Smith/Times-News/AP)

According to Chambers, the Forest Service has only $50 million left in reserves, after spending more than $960 million so far this year. The $50 million will only pay for a few days of fighting fires.

On Tuesday, the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, upped the national wildfire preparedness rating to its highest level for the first time in five years. The center reported more than 32,000 wildfires had burned roughly 3.4 million acres across the U.S. so far this year, representing 60 percent of the 10-year average.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., looks at the remains of a home that was destroyed by the West Fork II fire when it swept down the Lolo Creek canyon, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013 near Lolo, Mont.(Kurt Wilson/Missoulian/AP)

Spending by other agencies on wildfires has totaled $1.2 billion so far this year, just short of the $1.4 billion 10-year average.

"Certainly drought in some areas has contributed to the number and intensity of fire events," Norman Christensen, founding dean of Duke University's environmental college, told the Associated Press in an email.

[PHOTOS: Arizona Firefighter Deaths Mark Active Wildfire Season ]

"But many of the fires have been in highly populated, wilderness-urban interface areas such as Colorado Springs [Colo.], Sun Valley, Idaho, and the west slope of the Sierra Nevada [in California]. That adds greatly to the costs since so many more resources are required to protect built structures," he said.

A House Appropriations Committee report released in the spring said the Forest Service took a $400 million shortfall in operation costs due to sequestration, cutting 500 firefighters, 50 to 70 fire engines and two aircrafts.

In 2010, Congress dedicated $413 million to a special wildfire reserve fund created by the Obama administration in 2009 known as the FLAME Act. However, the reserve's funds where thinned down to $290 million the following year. They then rose to $315 in 2012, but dropped back down to $299 million this year after sequestration.

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