Congress Approves $910 million in Emergency Fire Funding

Congress Approves $910 million in Emergency Fire Funding

27 September 2008

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USA — The Supplemental Appropriations Bill approved today by the Senate includes $910 million in emergency federal fire funding sought by U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

The bill, approved earlier in the week by the House of Representatives, now goes to the White House to await the President’s signature.

Senator Feinstein, Chairman of the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, has pushed throughout the year for more funding to meet the threat of an unusually active, deadly fire season that has threatened to deplete America’s federal firefighting assets.

So far this year, wildfires in California burned more than 1.2 million acres and led to 13 firefighter deaths.

“This year California was hit by wildfires on a scale that was unprecedented in our history, and these fires drained the nation’s federal firefighting resources,” Senator Feinstein said.

“These vital firefighting resources must be replenished, and we must be prepared to meet a wildfire threat that’s made more dangerous because of global warming and drought.

“It is our duty to ensure that we are prepared to fight future wildfires. Human lives, property and our precious natural resources are at risk. I want to thank my colleagues in Congress for voting for this legislation, and I urge the President to sign it quickly.”

The $910 million in emergency funding would go the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of the Interior, to be used as needed around the United States this fire season. The funding would include:

* $610 million for wildfire suppression;

* $125 million for State and private lands fuels reduction;

* $100 million for rehabilitation;

* $50 million for Federal lands fuels reduction; and

* $25 million for firefighter recruitment and retention in high-risk areas.

California wildfires
This year’s California wildfires began with a huge lightning storm on June 21. An estimated 8,000 dry lightning strikes started most of the state’s wildfires, which totaled 2,096 at the peak. These fires alone burned more than 1 million acres, scorching an area larger than Delaware.

These fires quickly outstripped California’s firefighting abilities and drained federal firefighting coffers.

The U.S. Forest Service depleted its $1.2 billion firefighting budget in August, and had to withdraw $400 million from other programs – including construction, fuels reduction, and land-acquisition projects — to pay for firefighting through the end of the fiscal year.

Approximately $400 million of the money for fire suppression would be used to repay programs whose funds were borrowed.

In addition to asking for the $910 million in emergency federal fire funding, Senator Feinstein has played a lead role in pushing to improve federal firefighting capabilities in California. She has specifically called for:

* The U.S. Forest Service to bring its California firefighting corps to full staffing. Before the fires began, the Forest Service had 380 vacancies out of a total force that should be 4,432 – a vacancy rate of 8.5 percent. Senator Feinstein is urging that all firefighter vacancies be filled, and that Forest Service firefighter pay and retention issues be resolved.

* The permanent stationing of two military C-130H tankers at Point Mugu. Earlier this year, Senator Feinstein asked the President and Secretary of Defense to station these tankers at the California air base so they can attack new fires early.

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