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More than 8.4 million acres burned by U.S. wildfires so far this year, including more than 800,000 in Washington state; 2020 wildfire season one of the worst in decades 

Senators press for assessment to help ensure the National Guard has the firefighting resources it needs

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and 11 of their colleagues in a letter asking the National Guard for a report on its readiness to help states prepare, fight, and recover from wildfires. The report will help Congress address any current needs and utilize all available resources to respond to this year’s record wildfire season. The senators also noted that such a report will help Congress better equip the Guard in the future for the likelihood of increasingly severe and destructive fire seasons brought on by human-driven climate change. 

“We commend all the heroic men and women of the National Guard who have been responding to raging wildfires as part of a federal, state, and local effort,” the senators wrote in their letter to the Chief of the National Guard Bureau, General Daniel R. Hokanson. “With a more complete understanding of the Guard’s ability to respond, we can ensure proper resourcing and will be better able to keep our Guard members always ready and always there.” 

The 2020 wildfire season has been one of the worst in more than two decades. According to the most recent Incident Management Situation Report from the National Interagency Coordination Center, this year's wildfires have already burned 8,427,589 acres. The fires have killed dozens of Americans, destroyed thousands of structures, and displaced thousands. On August 19, Governor Inslee issued an emergency proclamation authorizing the Washington National Guard to respond to wildfires statewide. The National Guard has been active since in responding to fires across the state, including assisting with the Whitney Fire in Davenport that burned more than 127,430 acres.

In their letter, the senators requested the National Guard provide the following information:

  • The availability of appropriately trained personnel and equipment for firefighting-related needs;
  • An accounting of the capacity available through Emergency Management Assistance Compacts and whether expanding them may provide additional opportunities or wildfire capacity; and 
  • Any National Guard Bureau plans or constructs developed with governors for coordinated regional response.

In addition to Senators Murray, Cantwell, and Wyden, the letter was also signed by U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Tom Udall (D-NM), Bob Casey (D-PA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Jon Tester (D-MT), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

The full text of the letter is available below and HERE.

Dear General Hokanson:

As devastating fires of historic proportion continue to ravage the United States, we ask you to provide us an assessment of the National Guard’s ability to prepare for, respond to, and help state firefighting forces recover from wildfires. A frank estimation will help Congress address any gaps and use every resource available to respond to this year’s fires. It will also help us better resource and equip the Guard for a future in which human-driven climate change will make fire seasons increasingly severe and destructive.

Fighting fires is a complex mission that involves state, local, and federal officials and many different agencies. National Guard members who assist may be operating under Title 10, Title 32, State Active Duty, or outside of their state pursuant to an Emergency Management Assistance Compact between governors. Guard members must have the appropriate training, personnel numbers, and equipment needed to fulfill their missions, regardless of their status, because Americans are counting on them to succeed in the moment.

To that end we ask that you provide us your assessment of the current state of the National Guard’s ability to prepare for wildfires, help respond to them, and aid in the recovery. Please include the following:

  • An availability of appropriately trained personnel and equipment for firefighting-related needs.
  • An accounting of the capacity available through Emergency Management Assistance Compacts and whether you believe expanding them may provide additional opportunities or wildfire capacity.
  • Any National Guard Bureau plans or constructs developed with governors for coordinated regional response.

We urge you to be candid both about any current challenges and any gaps you think will emerge as increasingly destructive wildfire seasons put greater demands on the National Guard.

We commend all the heroic men and women of the National Guard who have been responding to raging wildfires as part of a federal, state, and local effort. With a more complete understanding of the Guard’s ability to respond, we can ensure proper resourcing and will be better able to keep our Guard members always ready and always there.

Sincerely,