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Obama Administration Says Catastrophic Fires Should Be Treated Like The Natural Disasters They Are

Kari Greer, National Interagency Fire Center

With wildfires becoming larger and more expensive every year, the federal government is proposing new ways to fund fighting them. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a press conference Tuesday that even though $50 million more has been budgeted this year than last year for wildfires, they’re expecting a shortfall of up to a $1.5 billion if wildfires rage out of control in California and in the northwest like they did last year.

Vilsack says wildfire management has exceeded its budget in half of the last 14 fire seasons.

These are emergencies. They should be treated as such. And do the same as we would other emergency disaster needs.

“It’s for that reason that we continue to ask Congress to look at the most catastrophic fires as the natural disasters as they are,” he said, “and to be able to provide resources and funding through the Emergency FEMA budget rather than through the operating budgets of either the Forest Service or the Department of the Interior.”

Secretary Jewell says this year's fire season is supposed to be as bad as last year's in California and the northwest. She says big fires can burn through fire budget money in a hurry.

“One percent of these fires equates to 30 percent of fire spending. These are emergencies. They should be treated as such. And do the same as we would other emergency disaster needs.”

Jewell says the rain this spring has delayed the fire season but if it dries up, it could leave tall dry grasses to flare up and spread quickly.

Melodie Edwards is the host and producer of WPM's award-winning podcast The Modern West. Her Ghost Town(ing) series looks at rural despair and resilience through the lens of her hometown of Walden, Colorado. She has been a radio reporter at WPM since 2013, covering topics from wildlife to Native American issues to agriculture.
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