Sen. Merkley Says FEMA Would Help Pay Cost of Fighting Wildfires Under New Legislation

Jun 18, 2015

Credit Kari Greer / U.S. Forest Service

The federal government is one step closer to changing the way it pays to fight wildfires. Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley said the preliminary legislation was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday.

Wildfires are not treated the same as other natural disasters, such as floods and hurricanes. This forces the U.S. Forest Service to take money intended for fire prevention efforts, like thinning, and use it to fight fires. Under the new system, Senator Merkley explains the wildfire budget would be based on the 10-year average cost.

Sen. Merkley: "There'll be some years that we don't need the full average amount and those funds will be surplus and reprogrammed to other purposes or returned to the Treasury. You assume that half of the years will be higher than that, on average, and in those years the additional cost will be covered by FEMA."

While Merkley says Thursday's committee approval is a significant shift in the right direction, it still has to make it through congress, which has several other budgets to agree on first. It's unlikely the money would be available for the fire season now underway.

According to the federal government, as of June 19, twelve large fires have already burned more than 35,000 acres in Oregon, California, Alaska and Arizona.