U.S. Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR-4) — who serves as the chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which oversees the Federal Emergency Management Agency — and Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley are leading U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and U.S. Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR-3), Kurt Schrader (D-OR-5), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR-1), and Cliff Bentz (R-OR-2) in pushing FEMA for maximum readiness for Oregon’s 2021 wildfire season, requesting the agency detail the steps it has taken to make it easier and faster to deliver disaster assistance in the wake of a catastrophic wildfire.
The push comes as the Bootleg fire in Southern Oregon — which has destroyed at least 21 houses, is putting nearly 2,000 more at risk, has killed cattle, and has caused urgent evacuations — continues to be the largest fire currently burning in the United States. Two other large fires, the Jack Fire in Southern Oregon and the Grandview Fire in Central Oregon, have also forced evacuations.
“As you know, Oregon, and the rest of the West, experienced an unprecedented and destructive wildfire season in 2020. Over 50,000 fires burned 10 million acres, with fires lasting well into the fall. As we approach another potentially catastrophic wildfire season, many Oregonians continue to struggle to return to the pre-disaster state of normal. The approval of the long-awaited cost-share adjustment for the 2020 wildfire season is critical to our recovery efforts and we thank you for that,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter to FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell.
“We appreciate the steps that you have taken to prepare for the 2021 wildfire season. For example, continuing to allow FEMA’s Regional Administrators to approve requests for Fire Management Assistance Grants will help expedite the flow of resources into the state and ensure that state agencies can quickly respond to fires knowing they have the financial resources to do so,” the lawmakers continued.
The delegation’s letter went on to pose the following questions:
- What steps have you taken to ensure that there are sufficient commodities in FEMA distribution centers in the event of a major disaster due to wildfire, and can you provide a detailed accounting of what is immediately available in FEMA’s nearest distribution centers?
- What steps have you taken to streamline and strengthen approvals for registrants for FEMA’s Individual and Households Program to ensure that Oregonians who need federal assistance receive it?
- What steps have you taken to streamline review of applications for IHP and lessen the complexity of associated communication with registrants in light of the unprecedented number of requests received by FEMA resulting from recent natural disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic?
- What resources does FEMA have available to help communities respond to the adverse impacts of wildfire smoke in the event of a major disaster?