U.S. Representative Dr. Raul Ruiz’s widlfire funding bill passed the House of Representatives (251-169) before the holiday recess. Ruiz’s bill, which would change the way Congress funds the expenses to fight wildfires, was part of the $81 billion disaster-aid bill.
This includes funds for victims of recent fires in both Northern and Southern California, as well as traditional natural disasters such as hurricanes.
The Senate is expected to vote on the bill after it reconvenes in January.
After the House passage of his proposal, Ruiz said, “Mr. Speaker, right now my home state of California is ablaze. And the communities of Idyllwild, Anza, and Mountain Center in my district are still bruised from the 2013 wildfires and are on high alert for the next fire.
“Today we passed my bill and delivered a win for firefighters and victims of fires by increasing federal funding to recover, rebuild, prevent future fires and keep communities safe,” he told his House colleagues.
“I worked with Cal Fire, Idyllwild Fire Protection District, Mountain Communities Fire Safe Council to author the wildfire prevention act which will deliver tens of millions of dollars to recover, rebuild, prevent future fires and keep our communities safe,” Ruiz added.
H.R.1183 allows states to apply for hazard-mitigation assistance through the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program in cases where a Fire Management Assistance Grant is awarded. Currently, states can access FMAGs to help fight the most severe fires and prevent them from becoming a major disaster.
Unfortunately, unlike other disasters such as tornadoes and hurricanes, once the fire is out, states and local communities do not have access to federal resources to address public-safety issues the fire creates, or to take proactive steps to prevent future fires. This bill brings wildfire disaster relief in line with other natural disasters.
“This funding is critical to combating the threat of wildfires in both my own district as well as throughout California. Its inclusion will help areas recover that have already been devastated by the recent catastrophic wildfires. I look forward to the Senate passing this legislation and having it signed into law quickly,” said Rep. Paul Cook (R-CA), the lead Republican co-sponsor.
After the 2013 Mountain Fire, Ruiz came to the Hill and met with first responders and toured the burned areas. Later that year, he introduced his first bill on wildfire funding.
In the winter of 2014, he returned to Idyllwild and attended a Mountain Communities Fire Safe Council meeting to discuss the bill and possible amendments. Before leaving, he repeated his desire to “be an advocate for you. We’ll sit down together and identify other grant funds.”
In 2015, he introduced H.R. 1009, a revised version of the wildfire funding bill. This legislation, with significant bi-partisan support, also passed the House of Representative in March 2016. However, the Senate did not take any action on any wildfire funding bills.
Eighteen California House members opposed the bill, including 17 Democrats and one Republican.