Yesterday, the Wildfire Prevention Act of 2015, a bipartisan bill that would update the Federal Emergency Management Administration’s guidelines for releasing disaster relief funds to ensure that victims of wildfires have access to the same resources as victims of other natural disasters, was introduced by House of Representative Jared Polis (D-CO) and Dr. Raul Ruiz (D-CA).
“As a Representative, nothing frustrates me more than when I tour the aftermath of a wildfire, see the ruins of houses in communities near Fort Collins and Boulder, and then find out that the federal government has refused to provide disaster relief because of a technicality,” said Rep. Polis. “This bill will ensure that those people or communities that have been devastated by wildfires will have access to the resources and relief that every other natural disaster victim can receive to rebuild their homes, towns, and lives.”
The bill’s introduction coincides with a new report that reveals 2015 wildfires pose a major risk to nearly 900,000 western U.S. homes in 13 states. If all were damaged or destroyed in a fire, the combined total reconstruction value is estimated at more than $237 billion. Of the total homes identified, just over 192,000 homes fall into the “Very High Risk” category alone, with total reconstruction cost valued at more than $49.6 billion.
The report, released by CoreLogic Data, noted that the states of California, Colorado and Texas contain the most homes at risk.
“As the drought in California continues, our forestlands and surrounding communities are at an even greater risk of wildfire destruction,” said Dr. Ruiz. “This bipartisan, pragmatic bill takes critical steps to proactively provide firefighters with the resources necessary to protect communities in the aftermath of a wildfire, and help stop the next fire before it starts to save lives, property, and resources.”
“I congratulate Representatives Ruiz, Polis, and the bill’s other cosponsors for introducing this bipartisan legislation,” said Fire Chief G. Keith Bryant, IAFC President and Chairman of the Board. “This bill will help communities that recently had to deal with the tragedy of a wildland fire to mitigate the effects of flooding, mudslides and other disasters that could result after the fire. I urge Congress to move quickly to pass this legislation.”
Under current law, victims of wildfires aren’t eligible for the “post-disaster” mitigation resources that victims of other natural disasters, such as hurricanes and tornadoes, are. These resources can be used to mitigate the effects of wildfires, such as post-fire flooding and mudslides, and prevent future fires. The use of funds for these purposes has been shown to be particularly effective – it’s estimated that every dollar spent on mitigation saves four dollars in future disaster costs.
Under the new bill, states, tribes, and local communities would be eligible to receive mitigation assistance grants for up to 15 percent of the total cost of fire suppression efforts. This extra amount for mitigation is cost-shared on a 75 percent federal, 25 percent state and local basis.
The Wildfire Prevention Act of 2015 has the support of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, International Association of Fire Fighters, National Association of Counties, and the National Fire Protection Association.