House passes legislation aimed at supporting wildfire recovery efforts

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FILE – In this Aug. 29, 2021, file photo, taken with a long camera exposure, the Caldor Fire burns in Eldorado National Forest, Calif. The 2-month-old California wildfire that threatened the Lake Tahoe resort region during the summer has been declared 100% contained. The fire reached the containment milestone late Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File)

WASHINGTON. D.C. (ABC4)- The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure passed new bipartisan legislation that supports wildfire recovery in Utah and across the nation.

The legislation titled the Wildfire Recovery Act was written by Rep. John Curtis from Utah and House Democratic Committee Chair Joe Neguse who represents Colorado. Both representatives co-chair the Bipartisan Wildfire Caucus. 

According to Neguse, the Wildfire Recovery Act would “increase flexibility in the federal cost-share for Fire Management Assistance Grants to bring in additional resources for communities as they rebuild from wildfire damage.”

“As Utahns know, wildfires leave devastating damage in their wake, and the sooner restoration and recovery can begin, the better,” Curtis says. “I am pleased to see the Wildfire Recovery Act advanced through Committee and am hopeful we will soon hold a vote on the Floor. Our bipartisan bill will help our communities during their greatest time of need.”

In 2020, wildfires ravaged the western United States which caused between an estimated $16.5 and $17.3 billion in total damages, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Drought along the western U.S. also caused between $4.5 and 4.6 billion in damages. Both events contributed to 91 deaths. Estimated damage for this year’s wildfires and drought is yet to be determined. However, deaths attributed to both soared to 235.

Neguse said in a press release that communities are still working to rebuild after this year’s wildfires in Colorado and that government needed to support recovery efforts in communities affected by fires.

“It’s critical that the federal government has the flexibility to fully support this wildfire recovery work and that we are not asking our cities and counties to pick up so much of the bill,” Neguse explains. “The bipartisan Wildfire Recovery Act will bring additional resources to our communities to support fire management and mitigation.”

The bill was co-sponsored by 35 other members of Congress, including Rep. Chris Stewart from Utah. 

Curtis and Neguse have worked together previously on legislation that addressed wildfires in the west. The Study on Improving Lands Act of 2019 looked at the effects of wildfires and land use practices on the ability of soil to gather carbon. 

They also introduced the Wildfire and Community Health Response Act of 2020, which supported the health of firefighters while mitigating the impact of wildfires on vulnerable communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Bipartisan Wildfire Caucus, launched earlier this year, works to address bipartisan science-driven solutions for tackling western wildfires. 

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