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Fund the FLAME Act, Colorado wildfire commission tells Congress

13 January 2013

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USA — A state commission looking into a fatal Colorado wildfire calls on Congress to fully fund the Federal Land Assistance, Management and Enhancement (FLAME) Act, which provides for emergency wildfire suppression.

Congress approved the act in 2009, but has not provided full fire-suppression funding to the Forest Service and the Interior Department, according to the report (.pdf) to the Colorado legislature by the Lower North Fork Wildfire Commission.

The March 2012 fire, which killed 3 people and destroyed or significantly damaged 27 homes, occurred when embers from a state-managed prescribed burn flared up during high winds. The resulting Lower North Fork Wildfire in rural Jefferson County, southwest of Denver, caused $11.3 million in private property damages. The state spent $6.6 million to put out the fire.

The FLAME Act was to establish two funds, one each for the Forest Service and Interior, to help finance emergency wildfire suppression costs. Previously money had been transferred from other agency programs to pay for emergency firefighting costs, undermining other programs, the commission said. But Congress still hasn’t appropriated enough money to fully implement the act.

Most of the commission’s other recommendations involve state programs, such as establishing a centralized reverse-911 call system and developing a consistent source of funding wildfire suppression. The state previously shifted management of prescribed burns from the Colorado State Forest Service to the Public Safety Department’s Division of Fire Prevention and Control.

The commission also suggests introduction and passage of several state bills, including legislation adopting standards for prescribed burns; creating an interim committee to examine wildfire prevention and mitigation matters issues including forest health and emergency management; and development of a statewide resource mobilization plan by the Public Safety Department’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

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