On October 23, 2013, Representative Ruiz (D-CA) along with Representatives Cook (R-CA), Polis (D-CO), and Tipton (R-CO) introduced the Wildfire Prevention Act of 2013 as HR 3333. This bill would expand the eligibility criteria for certain areas to receive post-fire hazard mitigation assistance and would provide federal cost sharing for hazard mitigation efforts, whether or not a major disaster has been declared. Often, the response to fighting wildfires is well coordinated among federal agencies and state, tribal, and local governments. However, generally the mitigation efforts for post-fire hazards, which commonly include severe flooding, do not enjoy the same level of coordination or funding. HR 3333 was referred to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (Stafford Act) authorizes the federal government to provide fire management assistance in the form of “grants, equipment, supplies, and personnel, to any State [, tribal,] or local government for the mitigation, management, and control of any fire on public or private forest land or grassland that threatens such destruction as would constitute a major disaster.” 42 U.S.C. § 5187.
Essentially, the federal government may provide fire management assistance (fire suppression) in anticipation that a fire could result in enough damage to warrant a major disaster declaration. Once the fire has been controlled without a major disaster declaration, access to post-fire hazard mitigation assistance is limited. The statute currently provides that “[t]he President may contribute up to 75 percent of the cost of hazard mitigation measures which the President has determined are cost-effective and which substantially reduce the risk of future damage, hardship, loss, or suffering in any area affected by a major disaster.” 42 U.S.C. § 5170c(a).
Because State, tribal, and local governments may only receive this type of hazard mitigation assistance after a major disaster has been declared, there is often a very dangerous unaddressed risk of post-fire flooding. HR 3333 would allow for the provision of post-fire hazard mitigation assistance and increased federal cost sharing in instances when fire management assistance was provided under Stafford Act authority but the damage from the fire did not reach the threshold for a major disaster declaration.
Please let us know if you have questions or if we may provide additional information regarding the Wildfire Prevention Act of 2013.