Wyden, Merkley Introduce Bills to Reform Federal Wildfire Disaster Response
Legislation would strengthen FEMA’s disaster preparedness and response efforts, and make federal disaster response more equitable for wildfire-impacted communities
Washington, D.C. – Following another season of record-breaking wildfires in the West, U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley today joined colleagues on two bills to redesign the federal government’s response to wildfires and provide additional resources to ensure equity for communities experiencing natural disasters.
“The climate crisis is not some distant threat. It’s here, and communities in Oregon and across the West are suffering its worst impacts with regular blazing infernos that destroy property and lives,” Wyden said. “Wildfires are natural disasters and should be treated as such, and that means reforming our laws to ensure all Oregon communities are better protected from destruction and have all the resources they need for recovery.”
“In September 2020, I drove more than 600 miles across Oregon and never once broke free from the thick cloud of smoke blanketing our state,” said Merkley. “I saw entire towns that had burned to the ground, and spoke with families who had lost everything. Wildfires are some of the most catastrophic natural disasters we face, and with climate chaos fueling larger and hotter fires, more and more communities are going to be facing direct impacts from wildfire disasters in the future. FEMA needs to be fully prepared and engaged in helping communities respond and recover from wildfires, and these bills are an important step in bringing FEMA up to speed with the reality of increasingly dangerous wildfire seasons.”
The FIRE Act would make several changes to the Stafford Act that governs FEMA—which was written when FEMA primarily focused on hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods—to ensure that FEMA’s disaster preparedness and response efforts fully address the unique nature of wildfires and their impacts on communities. This includes directing FEMA to pre-deploy assets during red flag warnings, improving relocation assistance for public infrastructure affected by fires, ensuring equity of assistance for tribal communities and tribal governments, and examining ways to speed up the FEMA assistance process.
The Disaster Equity and Fairness Act would ensure that FEMA’s disaster preparedness and response efforts fully address the unique needs of underserved communities, emergency food and water needs following a disaster, and the impact of consecutive disasters on communities.
In the Senate, the FIRE Act and the Disaster Equity and Fairness Act were introduced by U.S. Senator Alex Padilla D-Calif., and along with Wyden and Merkley is co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. and Patty Murray, D-Wash. The bills were introduced in the House by Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., and are co-sponsored by Reps. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., Jared Huffman, D-Calif., and Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif.