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Senators: “Please do not forget about wildfires – the natural disaster currently raging through the West”

(Washington, D.C.) –  With large fires blazing across Washington state and throughout the West, Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and a bipartisan group of senators urged Senate Leaders Mitch McConnell and Charles E. Schumer this week to include a wildfire funding fix in any future disaster aid legislation that passes through Congress.

Led by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Mike Crapo (R-ID), the letter’s signers also include Sens. Jim Risch (R-ID), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Jon Tester (D-MT), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and Tom Udall (D-NM).

This week, Congress passed a bipartisan funding bill to help with the cost of fighting the wildfires in western states as part of the disaster and government funding bill. However, the funding included does not fix the long-term problem of consistently underfunding fire suppression, which currently forces federal agencies to steal resources from fire prevention activities to pay for fighting fires, so-called “fire borrowing.”

Wildfires have burned almost 8 million acres of land across the West this year, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Thousands of residents have been forced to evacuate from their homes, and the U.S. Forest Service has already spent more than $1.7 billion this year to put out fires. In Washington state, recent wildfires this month near Jolly Mountain, Jack Creek, Uno Peak, Diamond Creek, Norse Peak and Archer Mountain have threatened residences, prompted evacuations and negatively impacted the local air quality.

“We stand ready to work with our colleagues in a bipartisan way in Congress to do everything we can to ensure the victims of Hurricane Harvey get the assistance they need,” the bipartisan group of senators wrote. “As we work to assist Texas and Louisiana on the road to recovery, please do not forget about wildfires – the natural disaster currently raging through the West.

“We ask that any disaster aid package or other must-pass legislation that passes through Congress include a wildfire funding fix. This fix is long overdue and people throughout the West desperately need our help,” the Senators added.

With the Forest Service’s fire suppression budget nearly depleted, the agency is likely to have to borrow from fire prevention money to tackle wildfires during the remainder of the fire season.

Read the letter here.