Padilla Introduces Slate of Bills to Help California Respond and Recover from Wildfires

With wildfire season already underway, Padilla proposes new package of bills to protect Californians from wildfire threats

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) introduced two bills to support efforts in California and across the country to put fires out faster and better protect communities from post-fire flooding. The Fire Suppression Improvement Act would help ease the burden on state and local governments who are shouldering the weight of increasingly devastating wildfires by expanding FEMA’s Federal Fire Management Assistance Grants (FMAG) to better support the pre-deployment of assets in advance of major wildfires. The Post Fire Flooding and Debris Flow Act would include mitigating and preventing post-wildfire flooding and debris flows as eligible under FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) and allow for state and local governments to act quickly when storms are imminent to protect lives, property, and public infrastructure.

Representative Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) introduced the companion to the Fire Suppression Improvement Act in the House, the Wildfire Recovery Act, and Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) will introduce the Post Fire Flooding and Debris Flow Act in the House. In the Senate, the bills are cosponsored by U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) in the Senate.

“The threat from wildfires is constant and increasingly devastating in California and states across the western United States,” said Senator Padilla. “As we enter another dangerous fire season under record breaking drought conditions, it’s more urgent than ever that we act quickly to pre-deploy assets to stop fires when they break out, and ensure our state and local community leaders have the tools to protect communities after they happen.”

“Colorado — and communities across the West — deserve to have the full extent of federal resources available as we grapple with wildfires, which is why I introduced this important bill. I’m grateful to Senator Padilla for taking up this critical bill in the U.S. Senate and for joining us in the fight to ensure we are assisting impacted communities in every way possible. This bill helps those on the long road to recovery from these historic wildfires and is an important step to increase federal resources available to our communities.” said Representative Joe Neguse, House Lead of H.R.1066.

“The destruction caused by wildfires reaches far beyond what happens during the blaze – burn scars that streak through our region are horribly perfect sites for large scale flooding and mudslides that further damage communities trying to rebuild,” said Representative Huffman. “My legislation with Senator Padilla directly addresses this threat so the federal government can help areas devastated by wildfires recover and avoid further catastrophe. We must continue to support local government partners so that they can be proactive in their mitigation efforts and limit the secondary disasters wildfires can create.”

“Climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of wildfires in the West, and federal policies must adapt to these new challenges,” said Senator Feinstein. “Our bills would provide states more flexibility in the use of federal emergency funds, allowing them to help mitigate fires before they happen and protect communities from floods and mudslides after a wildfire.”

“As New Mexico battles the largest wildfire in state history, it’s crucial that state and local governments have the necessary tools to respond to these disasters. With fire season well underway and extreme drought touching every corner of the state, I’m proud to introduce this package alongside Senator Padilla to help New Mexicans respond, recover, and rebuild from devastating wildfires, flooding, and other disasters,” said Senator Luján.

“This legislation is a significant move in the right direction. These timely efforts to modernize the federal reimbursement process reflects the nature of today’s evolving disaster landscape and will allow our communities to better prepare for, respond to, and recover from climate-driven emergencies,” said Mark Ghilarducci, Director of the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (CalOES).

The Fire Suppression Improvement Act would ensure state and local fire suppression assets that are pre-deployed are eligible for FMAGs once granted for an incident and allow for the federal cost share of such grants to be increased beyond 75 percent. This will support fire suppression operations across the west and support efforts to ensure fires do not get out of control when they break out.  After years of increasingly catastrophic wildfires in the West, it has become clear that the federal government must do more to support state and local firefighters with their initial efforts to get fires under control quickly and stave off increased spread and destruction.

The Post Fire Flooding and Debris Flow Act would ensure that mitigation work, before a storm, to prevent post-fire flooding or debris flow is explicitly eligible for FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program and allow for the federal cost share of such work to be increased beyond 75 percent. This will save lives and protect communities. Sudden and deadly post-fire events of this type are well documented throughout the western United States, particularly in Southern California. These events are one of the most dangerous post-fire hazards and pose a serious threat to life and property, and have the possibility to block drainage ways and damage public infrastructure.

Last week, Padilla joined Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) to lead a coalition of Senators in introducing the National Wildland Fire Risk Reduction Program Act, a comprehensive science authorization bill that will identify and invest in research and development (R&D), set up warning and forecast systems, develop observation and sensing technologies, and standardize data collection efforts to improve the nation’s preparedness, resilience, and response to wildfires. Provisions of this bill were adopted in an amendment that passed the Senate Commerce Committee on May 25, 2022, and now await consideration by the full Senate.

Since taking office, Padilla has made improving the federal response to wildfires one of his top priorities. He previously 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 has also introduced the FIRE Act, which advanced out of committee earlier this year; the legislation would update the Stafford Act to improve FEMA’s response to wildfires.

For a one pager on the Fire Suppression Improvement Act click here.

For a one pager on the Post Fire Flooding and Debris Flow Act click here.

Full text of the Fire Suppression Improvement Act and the Post Fire Flooding and Debris Flow Act can be found here and here.


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