Last year, in the worst fire season that the State of California has ever seen, through this point of the year there had been 4,277 fires that burned 38,889 acres.
As of this week, California has had 4,991 fires that have burned more than 142,477 acres — more than triple the amount during the same window last year.
And Congressman Josh Harder is trying to do everything he can to make sure that those numbers don’t grow any higher.
Fresh off of a meeting last week with fire chiefs from throughout San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties, the Turlock Democrat joined a group of four other members of Congress from the West in authoring a letter advocating for additional funding during the current budget and appropriations process to get a handle of fires before this year becomes the fire season on record — a letter that garnered more than three dozen signatures from other members of Congress from states affected by wildfires.
“We need to treat this wildfire season like the emergency it is, and that starts with getting our firefighters the resources they need to keep our families safe,” Harder said in a statement announcing the bill. “Funding across-the-board programs now like hazardous fuel reduction suppression operations, and firefighter recruiting and retention is infinitely better than paying for damages when out of control fires crush our communities.
“It’s time our budget reflected that reality.”
Last week Harder sat down with local fire officials to gain an understanding about the situations that they face when it comes to responding to wildland fires throughout California — creating a dialogue with the hopes that he could take the needs of local first responders into account when drafting budgetary resources and policy on the fire front.
With record heat roasting California and the rest of the Western United States over the last month, worries are high as fuels in California’s wooded acreage and other states in the West remain plentiful and extremely dry.
“As Members representing western states that continue to contend with the reality of increasingly large wildfires and nearly year-long fire seasons, these are issues that we have been working to address for years,” the letter read. “The cycle of extreme heat and drought made the last fire season a historic disaster. This year is already on track to be worse with 67 large fires already having burned over 900,000 acres across 12 states.
“We are grateful to finally have a partner in the White House who understands the need for robust investment in wildfire preparedness and risk mitigation efforts at the federal level.”
The request being made with the letter is for additional federal funding for removing hazardous fuels, full funding for suppression operations, and additional research into the types of destructive fires that California and other Western states have seen in recent years.
The five worst fires on record in California history have taken place since 2018, and four of those fires came last year in 2020.
The letter is also requesting that Congress upholds the Biden Administration’s wildfire priorities.
“As climate change all but ensures an ever-expanding fire season in the years to come, we must begin to adapt our federal resources to better align with needs on the ground. It is time for the federal government to start treating wildfires more like other major disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods by supporting more than just traditional disaster relief efforts,” the letter read. “We ask that you provide strong across-the-board funding for wildfire programs and research, increase funding for hazardous fuels reduction, fully fund the President’s Budget request for suppression operations, and that you ensure the wildfire priorities outlined in the attached White House statement be reflected in the final appropriations bills.”
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