USDA, DOI, FEMA provide firefighters, aircraft, and federal grants to western states

USDA, DOI, FEMA provide firefighters, aircraft, and federal grants to western states

13 June 2012

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 USA — As more than a dozen large wildfires rage in the western half of the U.S., federal agencies are providing firefighters, incident management teams, airtankers, helicopters, fire engines and other resources to supplement state and local resources as teams, said the Department of Homeland Security on June 12.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Department of the Interior and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said DHS, are working closely with first responders and firefighters from local, state, and tribal agencies to combat and monitor wildfires in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming as well as other states.

The USDA’s Forest Service is working through the National Interagency Fire Center, to coordinate its resources, along with resources from the Department of the Interior and other federal agencies to combat the blazes.

A wildfire raging in Colorado near Ft. Collins — the third largest in the state’s history — has claimed one life and drawn in almost 1,000 firefighters. Reportedly, five heavy air tankers were being used, along with 14 helicopters, including three National Guard Blackhawks.

New Mexico’s largest fire ever has been 38 percent contained, according to the federal agencies’ InciWeb joint incident information site. More agreeable weather conditions settled in on June 11 allowing a thousand firefighters to get a handle on the Whitewater Baldy Complex conflagration that has consumed more than 280,000 acres.

DHS said there are 19 active large fires are burning in nine states across the west. To help fight the fires, it said federal agencies have made approximately 4,500 firefighters available to aid in efforts to suppress and contain the fires.

On June 11, the Forest Service mobilized eight additional aircraft to its firefighting fleet to ensure an adequate number of airtankers are available for wildland firefighting efforts. With the additional airtankers, the Forest Service has 16 large airtankers and one very large airtanker available immediately for wildfire suppression, said DHS. The Forest Service has the capability to mobilize an additional 11 large airtankers, should circumstances require it, it added.

Additionally, said the agency, Forest Service and the Department of the Interior fire agencies can mobilize hundreds of helicopters and dozens of smaller aircraft, called “single-engine airtankers.”

To ensure states have the financial support they need, FEMA has provided Fire Management Assistance Grants to states with active large fires, said DHS. The grants help cover eligible costs, on a 75 percent cost share basis, and can reimburse state and local costs associated with personnel and equipment used to combat fires.

On June 9th, said DHS, FEMA authorized the use of federal funds, through the Fire Management Assistance Grant Program (FMAG), to help with eligible firefighting costs for the High Park Fire in Larimer County, CO and the Little Bear Fire located in Lincoln County, NM. On May 26, an FMAG was approved for the Whitewater-Baldy Complex fire in New Mexico.

While extremely serious fires are burning in several states, to date the season has been below average, according to DHS, meaning that additional resources remain available should they be necessary. On average the USDA Forest Service and the Department of the Interior bureaus respond to more than 20,000 wildfires per year, it said.

“We continue to support our state, local, and tribal partners as they work to contain and suppress the wildfires burning in the West,” said Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. “Our fire managers are bringing extensive resources to bear to respond vigorously to those wildfires threatening lives, communities, and cultural and natural resources, and we stand ready to provide additional eligible resources as necessary.”

“We’re bringing the full range of our federal, tribal, state, local and non-governmental resources together to manage these wildland fires and reduce risk to communities,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. “We remain vigilant and continue to do all we can to ensure the safety of all firefighters in this challenging wildlife season.”

“FEMA continues to closely monitor the fires in several southwestern states, and is providing financial support through our Fire Management Assistance Grant program to assist efforts, led by firefighters, public safety officers, and emergency personnel, to fight and mitigate the volatile wildfire conditions,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano.

DHS said firefighting experts will continuously monitor conditions and move assets as necessary to be best positioned and increase initial attack capabilities.

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