Budget deal includes wildfire disaster fund to end borrowing

WASHINGTON (AP) — A spending bill slated for a vote in Congress includes a bipartisan plan to create a wildfire disaster fund to help combat increasingly severe wildfires that have devastated the West in recent years.

The bill sets aside more than $20 billion over 10 years to allow the Forest Service and other federal agencies end a practice of raiding non-fire-related accounts to pay for wildfire costs, which exceeded $2 billion last year.

Western lawmakers have long complained that the current funding mechanism — tied to 10-year averages for wildfire — makes budgeting difficult, even as fires burn longer and hotter each year.

The new plan sets aside $2 billion per year — outside the regular budget — so officials don’t have to tap money meant for prevention programs to fight wildfires.