Editorial – Forest fires should be treated as natural disasters

Editorial – Forest fires should be treated as natural disasters

13 September 2015

published by http://union-bulletin.com

USA– Which one of these is not like the other?

Tornadoes in the Midwest, hurricanes in the South or forest fires in the Pacific Northwest.

If you guessed forest fires, you are correct. Tornadoes and hurricanes are considered natural disasters and as such federal aid is available to help control the damage and rebuild the devastation. Forest fires, however, do not have that status.

But that could be changing in the wake of this summer’s rash of wildfires that have engulfed with Pacific Northwest — from Washington state to Montana — in flames and smoke.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, who visited the fire camps in Northeastern Washington recently, said wildfires need to be funded as disasters. This would leave fire prevention budgets in place for thinning dense forest stands, rehabilitating areas after wildfires and making sure communities are more resilient to fire.

This makes a great deal of sense.

“Fires of this magnitude (are) not normal on the landscape,” she said, speaking of the devastation near Omak.

And while firefighting is perhaps the best example of where state, tribal and federal governments experience excellent cooperation, she added, “We do not have the capacity to treat it as the disaster it truly is.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Region 10 administrator, Ken Murphy, welcomed the proposal, according to The Wenatchee World.

“Fires are disasters,” he said.

That’s hard to argue.

Yet, it will be if Congress takes up this issue. There are only so many dollars to go around to battle disaster.

Members of Congress should keep in mind that ultimately we all pay the toll for wildfires. We pay in lives lost and property that’s destroyed. We also pay for the damage done to the environment.

If the federal government would fund fire fighting as it does battling other natural disasters, more money would be available to prevent future fires.

Jewell said President Barack Obama has called for a new framework that would allow agencies such as FEMA to respond as it does in hurricanes or tornadoes. The fix would provide more certainty in funds for the growing fire suppression needs, she said, and preserve money for prevention and rehabilitation.

It will not be easy getting agreement on this issue in the nation’s capital, but given the incredible damage inflicted on the Pacific Northwest by fires this summer, this is clearly something that must happen.

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