Legislation introduced to improve wildfire disaster relief

Eiler Fire hazardous tree mitigation
Mitigation of hazardous trees in the Eiler Fire 40 miles east of Redding, California, August 6, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

A bill has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives which would improve the federal assistance available to landowners affected by a wildfire, and ensure that they have access to the same resources as victims of other natural disasters.

House Bill 1009, “To authorize the Federal Emergency Management Agency to award mitigation financial assistance in certain areas affected by wildfires”, was introduced by Representative Dr. Raul Ruiz (CA) and has 16 cosponsors. The bill has been referred to the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management.

In a press release the bill is informally called “The Wildfire Prevention Act of 2015”. The term “fire prevention” in the name is a little puzzling, since the text in the bill refers primarily to post-fire hazard mitigation. However, perhaps funds would be used for salvage logging or removing dead and down trees in burned areas which would otherwise add to the fuel available for future fires.

Under current law, victims of wildfires are not eligible for the post-disaster mitigation resources that can be tapped by victims of other natural disasters, such as hurricanes and tornadoes. These resources can be used to mitigate the effects of wildfires, such as post-fire flooding and mudslides. The bill would allow states, tribes, and local communities to be eligible to receive mitigation assistance grants for up to 15 percent of the total cost of fire suppression efforts. This extra amount for mitigation is cost-shared on a 75 percent federal, 25 percent state and local basis.

Congress.gov which tracks legislation is down as this is written, but when it is back up you can read about the progress of the bill. We have a copy of the complete text of the bill here. The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act of 2007, which is being amended by this bill can be found HERE.

Below, in bold, is the text that would be added to the existing text of the Stafford Act.

Section 404 (a) In General – The President may contribute up to 75 percent of the cost of hazard mitigation measures which the President has determined are cost-effective and which substantially reduce the risk of future damage, hardship, loss, or suffering in any area affected by a major disaster or any area affected by a fire for which assistance was provided under Section 420.

Section 420 referred to above relates to fire management assistance, including providing federal funds for the “mitigation, management, and control of any fire on public or private forest land or grassland that threatens such destruction as would constitute a major disaster.”

The bill would also add the following to Section 420 of the Stafford Act:

Section 420, (d) HAZARD MITIGATION ASSISTANCE.—The President may provide hazard mitigation assistance in accordance with section 404 in any area affected by a fire for which assistance was provided under this section, whether or not a major disaster had been declared.

“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 Rep. Jared Polis (CO), one of the cosponsors. “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 Chairman of the Board. “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.”

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

One thought on “Legislation introduced to improve wildfire disaster relief”

  1. “Under current law, victims of wildfires are not eligible for the post-disaster mitigation resources that can be tapped by victims of other natural disasters, such as hurricanes and tornadoes.” This is simply not true. It doesn’t matter what the event is, it just depends if there is a disaster declaration declared from the President. The issue is that the bill is saying there shouldn’t be a disaster declaration for wildfire 404 funds, yet doesn’t discuss other hazards. It will be interesting to follow.


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