Newhouse Recognizes First Responders, Firefighters, Volunteers Fighting WA Wildfires, Calling for Changes in Wildfire Funding
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA) spoke on the House floor to recognize the sacrifices and efforts of first responders, firefighters, and volunteers who continue to battle wildfires across Washington State. The Okanogan Complex fire has now surpassed last year’s Carlton Complex fire as the largest wildfire in Washington State’s recorded history.
Rep. Newhouse: For a second year in a row, my home state of Washington and the 4th Congressional District are facing the worst wildfires in the state’s recorded history. One year ago, the Carlton Complex fire broke out in Okanogan County, and at the time it was the most destructive our state’s history, burning over 250,000 acres, destroying hundreds of homes and businesses, and devastating the environment.
Now the people of Washington are once again enduring another catastrophic wildlife season – far surpassing the scale of the devastation experienced last year. To put it in perspective, the amount of land burning in my home of Washington, it is the equivalent of the state of Rhode Island. Many of these fires continue to burn, even as federal, state, and local agencies and officials work tirelessly to contain them.
Communities across my state are mourning the tragic loss of three firefighters who fell in the line of duty on August 19th while battling the Twisp Fire in Okanogan County. We remember and mourn the loss of these brave young men: Andrew Zajac, Richard Wheeler, and Tom Zbyszewski. Our prayers are with their families and their loved ones. The current situation in Washington is dire, and the heartbreaking loss of life is a sober reminder of the dangerous conditions facing many residents.
Already, roughly 1 million acres have burned, along with countless homes, businesses, and agricultural operations – forcing thousands of residents to evacuate their homes as the threat continues.
While the Governor has declared a State of Emergency and the President approved a Federal Emergency Declaration, the threat remains for residents of Central and Eastern Washington and more resources are necessary. For the first time in history, the Forest Service has spent more than half of its budget on wildfire suppression and across the country over 8 million acres have already burned just this year.
The Forest Service reported last week that is has begun the practice known as "fire-borrowing” – which is transferring funds to supplement its diminishing firefighting budget. This practice of fire-borrowing leads into a vicious cycle where funding is not available for critical fire mitigation efforts, such as thinning dense forests, and rehabilitating areas after wildfires, and ensuring communities are more resilient and prepared for future fires. This leads the next fire season to be worse than the last – a trend we are now experiencing in Washington – which is why it is more important than ever to pass legislation to fix this problem, such as the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act.
To protect our communities and battle the wildfires, firefighters from across the U.S., as well as Australia and New Zealand, have joined the fight, and we owe them our deepest gratitude and thanks. Additionally, the thousands of first responders, and volunteers, and National Guard service members who have worked around the clock – at great personal risk – to fight the blaze deserve recognition for their heroic and selfless efforts.
I have seen firsthand how our communities have pulled together to help one another during these trying times. Our communities in Central and Eastern Washington are resolute, resilient, and have come together to confront the many challenges facing them. The outpouring of support and efforts of volunteers from all over the state and country – who provide shelter to survivors, cook meals, and unload trucks of relief supplies – is a testament to the spirit and determination of Washingtonians and our neighbors. However, help is needed still as the current fires have only worsened what was already a perilous situation, with more and more homes being destroyed, families being displaced, and severe economic hardship expected in the aftermath.
Mr. Speaker, we must remember the losses caused by the catastrophic wildfires of the last two years, and Congress must continue to push to improve forest health and to ensure that this does not happen again.
Congressman Newhouse Traveled to Okanogan County to Meet with First Responders and Local Officials
Newhouse Backs Forest Management and Wildfire Fighting Legislation
H.R. 167, the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act
Rep. Newhouse is a cosponsor of legislation introduced by Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID), H.R. 167, the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, which would authorize additional funds to be made available for fighting wildfires, and allows the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior a streamlined, fast-tracked path to request those funds from Congress if needed.
H.R. 2647, the Resilient Federal Forests Act
Rep. Newhouse supported House passage of H.R. 2647, the Resilient Federal Forests Act by a vote of 262-167. This legislation would tackle the issue of ‘fire borrowing’ while addressing the growing economic and environmental threats from catastrophic wildfires. If enacted, many measures in the bill could be implemented immediately by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to dramatically improve the health and resiliency of federal forests and rangelands.
For a summary of H.R. 2647, the Resilient Federal Forests Act, click here.
H.R. 2178, the FORESTS Act
Rep. Newhouse is an original cosponsor of legislation introduced by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) titled, H.R. 2178, the FORESTS Act, which would improve national forest health and reduce wildfire risks. The bill would require the U.S. Forest Service to identify areas in each national forest that should be actively managed and produce at least half of the sustainable timber yield in each management area each year.