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Tribes provide fire services on and off reservations in California

Robert Smith serves as chairman of the Pala Band of Mission Indians in California. Photo from California Native American Day / Facebook

Tribes in southern California are providing key fire services on and off their reservations but the state doesn't always respect their authority, officials said.

The Pala Band of Mission Indians responded to 920 calls last year, 620 of which were off the reservation, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported. The Barona Band of Mission Indians also goes where it is needed in a county that is home to 18 reservations.

“I can’t say enough,” San Diego County supervisor Dianne Jacob told the paper. “They have been extremely valuable partners and the services that are provided have made a difference in the lives and property of many people.

But some tribes said the Cal Fire, a state agency, doesn't always call their departments first even though they may be closest to an emergency. And they questioned comments by the state's fire chief who said tribal crews aren't as experienced as others.

“They treat the municipalities different from they do the tribal departments,” David Osuna, the assistant fire chief for the Pala Band, told the paper “I don’t want to be perceived badmouthing Cal Fire, but they’re not all the sunshine they say they are.”

The tribes in the region suffered from a string of devastating fires in October 2003.

Get the Story:
Tribal fire departments help protect county (The San Diego Union-Tribune 8/27)

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