Last week, U.S. Rep. Dr. Raul Ruiz (D-CA 36) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO 2) announced the introduction of H.R. 1009 to target disaster relief funds to victims of wildfire so the communities are ensured they have access to the same resources as victims of other natural disasters.
The proposed legislation is slightly different than Ruiz’s bill H.R. 3992 in the 114th Congress.
“As the drought in California continues, our forestlands and surrounding communities are at an even greater risk of wildfire destruction,” said Ruiz. “This bipartisan, pragmatic bill takes critical steps to proactively provide firefighters with the resources necessary to protect communities in the aftermath of a wildfire, and help stop the next fire before it starts — to save lives, property and resources.”
Republican co-sponsors of the bill include Don Young of Alaska and Paul Cook of California and Yucca Valley. The bill has been referred to the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management.
Under current law, victims of wildfires aren’t eligible for the “post-disaster” mitigation resources that victims of other natural disasters, such as hurricanes and tornados, are. These resources can be used to mitigate the effects of wildfires, such as post-fire flooding and mudslides, and prevent future fires. Funds for these purposes has been shown to be particularly effective — it’s estimated that every dollar spent on mitigation saves $4 in future disaster costs.
Under this bill, states, tribes and local communities would be eligible to receive mitigation assistance grants for up to 15 percent of the total cost of fire suppression efforts regardless of whether a major disaster has been declared or not. This extra amount for mitigation is cost-shared on a 75 percent federal and 25 percent state/local basis.
“As a representative, nothing frustrates me more than when I tour the aftermath of a wildfire, see the ruins of houses in communities near Fort Collins and Boulder, and then find out that the federal government has refused to provide disaster relief because of a technicality,” said Polis. “This bill will ensure that those people or communities that have been devastated by wildfires will have access to the resources and relief that every other natural disaster victim can receive to rebuild their homes, towns and lives.”
“I congratulate representatives Ruiz, Polis and the bill’s other cosponsors for introducing this bipartisan legislation,” said Fire Chief G. Keith Bryant, International Association of Fire Chiefs president and board chair, in a press release. “This bill will help communities that recently had to deal with the tragedy of a wildland fire to mitigate the effects of flooding, mudslides and other disasters that could result after the fire. I urge Congress to move quickly to pass this legislation.”
The Wildfire Prevention Act of 2015 is supported by IAFC, the International Association of Fire Fighters, the National Association of Counties and the National Fire Protection Association.