Rep. Huffman Introduces Bill to Help Communities Prepare for Wildfire Threats
Washington, D.C. – Yesterday, Representative Huffman (D-San Rafael) introduced the Wildfire Defense Act to help local communities defend themselves from the growing danger of wildfires. This bill will empower communities to implement science-based methods for mitigating wildfire damage, and provide funding to design and implement new Community Wildfire Defense Plans with community members, first responders, and relevant state agencies. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) is introducing similar legislation in the Senate to achieve these goals.
“Over the past two decades, wildfires have caused enormous devastation across my district and all of California; crippling communities and businesses while decimating vast swaths of the unique California wilderness,” said Representative Huffman. “Although we are still faced with higher risks due to the effects of the climate crisis, there is still a great deal we can do to prepare our communities for these events and mitigate the infrastructural failures that cause catastrophic fires. In order to protect our communities from the growing threat of widespread wildfires, we must implement strategies and resources commensurate with those provided to victims of other natural disasters.”
“As the climate crisis creates the conditions for more widespread and intense wildfires than ever before, Californians must not be made to fight alone,” said Senator Harris. “As we continue to combat climate change and address other root causes of these fires, we must also invest in our communities and provide them with the resources to strengthen their readiness. We know that more fires are coming, and we know what works to keep communities safe and help firefighters do their jobs—so let’s take action to get it done.”
“I have had the honor of serving in the fire service for 33 years. Wildfires today are burning with more intensity and a higher rate of spread than I have experienced at any other time in my career. They are threatening communities and causing widespread infrastructure damage. This legislation provides a meaningful and decisive approach to wildfire mitigation and community readiness. I am pleased to see Representative Huffman and Senator Harris take such a decisive action towards wildfire preparedness and the effective management of the wildfire threat,” said Mark Heine-Fire Chief-Sonoma County Fire District.
“During the Kincade Fire, Sonoma County’s proactive investments in emergency preparedness and response saved lives and communities,” said Sonoma County Board of Supervisor Chair David Rabbitt. “We applaud our Congressional delegation for bringing forward legislation to expand the preparedness and resiliency efforts that that our County has been implementing over the past two years. Continued investment in these critical areas is crucial to protecting our communities from the dangers posed by wildfires.”
“Senator Harris and Representative Huffman’s Wildfire Defense Act comes at a critical juncture,” said Susan Jane Brown, Public Lands Director and staff attorney for the Western Environmental Law Center in Portland, Oregon. “As in many places in the west, the State of Oregon is in the process of developing recommendations for community preparedness in response to increasing wildfire risk. The Wildfire Defense Act will support those efforts by creating essential programs and providing the necessary funding to make our wildland urban interface communities safer.”
“This bill rightly recognizes that we need to create and support fire-smart communities; we need community scale planning, education and funding to implement safety measures. Becoming fire smart is vital to protecting our neighbors and first responders,” said Sierra Club Deputy Legislative Director Kirin Kennedy.
"The Wildfire Defense Act will promote community resilience in the places most at-risk from wildfire. We are pleased to see Representative Huffman and Senator Harris take decisive action to address the challenges posed by climate change and fire management. We hope other members of Congress will follow their lead," said Ryan Henson, Policy Director for the California Wilderness Coalition.
Specifically, the Wildfire Defense Act will authorize $1 billion per year to:
- Establish guidelines for communities to design and develop new Community Wildfire Defense Plans (CWDP) that are developed in coordination with community members, first responders, and relevant state agencies. CWDPs will focus on implementing strategies and activities relating to:
- Improving evacuations and access for first responders
- Addressing the specific needs of vulnerable populations, including the elderly and those with disabilities
- Increasing the resiliency of critical infrastructure and homes
- Creating community-scale defensible space to slow or stop the spread of wildfire by clearing brush and other fire hazards around homes, businesses, and other facilities
- Deploying distributed energy resources like microgrids with battery storage
- Implementing strategic land use planning
- Educating community members
- Building local capacity to implement and oversee the plan
- Coordinating with existing wildfire plans like a Community Wildfire Protection Plan
- Provide grants of up to $250,000 to develop a CWDP and grants of up to $10 million to implement a CWDP
- Grants will be prioritized for low-income communities that are in a wildfire hazard area and for communities recently impacted by a major wildfire
- Study how a CWDP could be used as certification for insurance companies assessing a community resilience.
- Complete a report on all federal authorities and programs to protect communities from wildfires.
- Continuously update wildfire hazard maps.
- Assess impediments to emergency radio communications across federal, state, and local land management and emergency response agencies.
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