Senator Murray Pushes to Bolster 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 Washington state, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) cosponsored two bills to redesign and strengthen the federal government’s response to wildfires and provide additional resources to ensure equity for communities experiencing natural disasters.

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. 

“Climate change means devastating wildfires are quickly becoming the new normal—wiping entire towns in Washington state off the map. We need to ensure our federal wildfire prevention and response efforts are able to meet this moment and account for the severity of fire seasons we’re now facing,” said Senator Murray “That means passing legislation to make sure communities have the resources they need to prepare for the next wildfire season, fight these fires, and build back afterward. I’m going to keep doing everything I can to streamline and strengthen how we respond to natural disasters in the face of a growing climate crisis.”

In addition to helping secure $8 billion in wildfire risk reduction by providing funding for community wildfire defense grants, mechanical thinning, controlled burns, the Collaborative Forest Restoration Program, and firefighting resources in the Senate’s bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), Senator Murray has worked to pass legislation that created a budget for firefighting efforts separate from the rest of the National Forest Service’s budget (commonly referred to as the fire funding fix). Until the fix that Senator Murray helped secure, the Forest Service would have to pull significant resources from its general budget to fight wildfires (fire borrowing), which exhausted their available resources for forest management, creating an untenable situation and painful cycle that made forests more liable to catch on fire. As noted in a study by the Center for American Progress, “ending fire borrowing could free up roughly $1.3 billion annually that had been redirected to pay for firefighting.”

A one-pager of the FIRE Act can be found here, and the full text of the bill can be found here.

A one-pager of the Disaster Equity and Fairness Act can be found here, and the full text of the bill can be found here.