This year’s horrific wildfire season in the West is spurring Congress to move toward providing $700 million in emergency disaster aid to the U.S. Forest Service and other federal agencies facing rapidly rising firefighting costs.
The emergency aid – contained in legislation needed to prevent the threatened government shutdown – would for the first time in recent years allow the Forest Service and other public land agencies to avoid gutting their budgets to pay for wildfire costs.
Devastating wildfires in Oregon, Washington and California have destroyed thousands of homes and consumed over $1 billion in federal firefighting costs — and the fire season is still not over. The Forest Service said last month that for the first time, it is now spending more than half of its budget fighting wildfires.
As of Sept. 11, total wildfire costs totaled more than $211 million in Oregon and nearly $253 million in Washington, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry.
The firefighting aid – akin to the emergency help that Congress provided after Hurricane Sandy and other large natural disasters – has support from lawmakers of both parties and appears likely to stay in the continuing resolution that won a key vote in the Senate this week. The measure needs congressional approval before the new fiscal year starts on Thursday to prevent another government shutdown.