Lawmakers say federal response to area wildfires slow

Lawmakers say federal response to area wildfires slow   

30 September 2011

published by

USA — Texas Congressional representatives met with county and emergency management officials Thursday to discuss the federal government’s response to wildfires that have torched thousands of acres across Northeast Texas.

Officials from Gregg and Harrison counties, Texas Forest Service and emergency management officials met with U.S. Reps. Michael McCaul, R-10th Congressional District, and Louie Gohmert, R- 1st Congressional District, to voice concerns with how quickly resources were moved to Texas as wildfires ravaged tens of thousands of acres, causing millions of dollars in damage.

While the federal government has issued a federal disaster declaration for Gregg, Harrison, Upshur, Cass, Marion and Smith counties, McCaul and Gohmert said the federal government delayed the declaration longer than it should have been.

“Once we got the federal disaster declaration, (FEMA) was on the ground, but it took too long to get that federal disaster declaration,” McCaul said. “We knew that back in the spring time we were having fires across the state, and it was very foreseeable that there would probably be more. Unfortunately, that’s the part I’m frustrated with. Having said that, they are on the ground working in partnership with our county judges and first responders.

“We’ll be working to make sure FEMA does what it’s supposed to do, and that the federal government is a real partner in this, not an enemy.”

McCaul said the volunteer fire departments were the heroes with the wildfires, but questioned why some wildfire aviation equipment took so long to be sent to Texas.

“You hear the complaints, ‘Where were the airplanes? Where were the planes with the flame retardant?’ I mean, they’re here now, but where were they then,” McCaul asked.

Gohmert said FEMA responded fast “for FEMA.”

“That’s the problem with FEMA. They’re not going to be as fast as anyone would like them to be, because they are a part of the federal government,” he said. “Every hour counts drastically in the overall affect. FEMA can learn some lessons from this; this isn’t a hurricane, a fire is different — it’s ongoing.”

He said there was one lesson to be learned.

“Our hope doesn’t arrive on Air Force One. It doesn’t arrive with the federal government. Our hope is with the people of the United States and doing the right thing,” Gohmert said.

Fire department officials’ main concern that was raised in Thursday’s meeting is with the federal paperwork each volunteer fire department is to submit in order to see the benefits of the declaration.

“I think we need to find a way to streamline some of this paperwork and cut through some of the red tape. It’s too much of a burden, particularly on volunteer firefighters. They don’t have time to fight a fire, go home at night, fill out a bunch of paperwork and go back to their regular job the next day,” McCaul said.

Officials said the goal of the meeting was to hear any concerns county officials had, in order to present the findings before the U.S. House Homeland Security Oversight & Investigations Subcommittee, which McCaul leads.

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