Padilla Bill to Improve Federal Wildfire Response Gains Momentum in the Senate

WATCH: Senator Padilla Speaks on FIRE Act Advancing Out of Committee

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla’s (D-Calif.) bill to strengthen the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) wildfire preparedness and response efforts advanced out of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC). The legislation now moves to the full Senate for consideration.

The FIRE Act would update the Stafford Act that governs FEMA—which was written when the agency primarily focused on hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods—to improve FEMA’s response to wildfires, including by accounting for melted infrastructure and burned trees as well as allowing FEMA to pre-deploy assets during times of highest wildfire risk and red flag warnings. The bill would also ensure cultural competency for FEMA’s counseling and case management services, help to ensure relocation assistance is accessible to public infrastructure in fire prone areas, prioritize survivors’ housing needs after disasters, ensure equity of assistance for tribal communities and tribal governments, and examine ways to speed up the federal assistance process and improve the availability of fire insurance.

“In California, we have tragically seen that wildfire season is no longer just a few months out of the year, but is rather a year-round event,” said Senator Alex Padilla. “The FIRE Act will make long overdue updates and changes to redesign the federal response to wildfires and help us better prepare to equitably and effectively respond to the new normal of ever-increasing wildfires. I am proud to see this much needed bill gain momentum and I look forward to ensuring that Californians, and all wildfire impacted communities, can see the federal government responding effectively to the unique challenges and needs of wildfires.”

“Wildfires have wreaked havoc on communities across the country, and they are likely to get even more severe because of worsening climate change. The federal government must do more to help communities respond to and recover from these horrific natural disasters,” said Senator Peters, Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “I’m grateful to Senator Padilla for his leadership on this critical legislation to enhance FEMA’s ability to provide resources and support to communities who fall victim to wildfires.”

“The Committee’s action on this bill marks a significant move in the right direction,” said Mark Ghilarducci, Director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (CalOES). “Senator Padilla’s timely legislation to modernize the Stafford Act reflects the nature of today’s disaster landscape and will allow communities to better prepare for, respond to, and recover from climate-driven disasters.

The legislation builds on feedback and input from community stakeholders in California. Last summer, Padilla hosted a discussion and listening roundtable with local leaders in Santa Rosa on wildfire prevention, response, and recovery efforts. He also visited the Forest Service’s Incident Command Post to hear from officials on the ground how to best support fire crews as they worked to combat the Dixie Fire.

Since taking office, Padilla has made improving the federal response to wildfires one of his top priorities. He introduced a package of bills aimed at ensuring California has the federal resources it needs to protect communities impacted by wildfire smoke and is leading legislation aimed at battling wildfires, protecting workers, and helping combat the effects of wildfire smoke. Padilla also successfully advocated for California to receive billions for wildfire response and drought relief in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Padilla is also the coauthor of the Achieving Equity in Disaster Response, Recovery, and Resilience Act alongside HSGAC Chairman Gary Peters (D-Mich.). This bill, which also advanced out of committee today, would improve the access to, and quality of, disaster assistance for underserved communities. Specifically, the legislation would establish the Office of Civil Rights, Equity, and Inclusion at FEMA to increase access to disaster assistance, improve quality of disaster assistance received, and eliminate disparities in the delivery of disaster assistance for underserved communities.

A one-pager of the FIRE Act can be found here, and a section-by-section can be found here.

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