Today Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell visited the Northern California Geographic Area Coordination Center (North Ops) in Redding, California,where she met with members of the interagency fire leadership team and employees from the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service and toured on-the-ground fuels management projects in the surrounding area. Jewell was joined by federal and state leadership, including John Laird, California Secretary for Natural Resources; Ken Pimlott, Director of CAL FIRE and Jim Douglas, Director of the Interior Department's Office of Wildland Fire.
Jewell's visit follows Gov. Jerry Brown's proclamation of a State of Emergency in California with nearly a dozen significant wildfires burning. The Preparedness Level for the Northern California and Northwest geographic areas is at 5, on a scale of 1-5, requiring firefighting assistance from other geographic areas across the nation.
"As the experts anticipated, California is experiencing a tough fire season due to the historic drought," said Jewell. "I'm extremely impressed with the level of coordination and professionalism happening here at the operations center to ensure that the men and women fighting these fires have the resources they need to be safe and to protect communities and important natural resources."
During her visit, Secretary Jewell underscored her support for the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy and the President's Fiscal Year 2015 budget proposal to change how fire suppression costs are budgeted to treat extreme fire seasons the way other emergency disasters are treated.
"We are confronting new wildland fire challenges due to climate change, extended period of drought, fuel buildup and development in fire-prone areas," Jewell said. "We need a better way to fund escalating wildfire suppression costs. The President's budget proposal -- and similar bipartisan legislation before Congress -- gives the flexibility to accommodate peak fire seasons, without adding to the deficit or cutting important Interior and Forest Service missions such as forest and rangeland restoration, fuels management and proactive community protection."
The President's budget request, modeled on the current disaster cap that funds FEMA and disaster programs, would allow for a balanced suppression and proactive fuels management and restoration program, with flexibility to accommodate peak fire seasons. The proposal tracks closely with legislation authored by Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho, and Representatives Mike Simpson of Idaho and Kurt Schrader of Oregon.
The Interior Department and U.S. Department of Agriculture have had to divert funds from other programs to fund firefighting efforts for seven of the last 12 years. In the last two years, the departments had to transfer more than one billion dollars from other accounts--including projects that would reduce fire risks--to pay for firefighting.
During Secretary Jewell's tour of the operational facilities at North Ops, she received a briefing on the current fire situation and learned more about how the work at the North Ops facility supports firefighters on the ground.
Approximately 21,000 interagency personnel, 1,200 fire engines and 160 helicopters are assigned to fires across the nation. Eighteen large airtankers, two MAFFS-equipped C-130s and 71 Single Engine Air Tankers are available nationally to combat fires burning across the United States. Additional personnel and firefighting assets remain available to meet resource orders.
Together with interagency partners, 27 Incident Management Teams and 1 National Incident Management Organization team have been deployed to help provide a coordinated and aggressive response to wildfires across the country.
On average, along with other partners, the Forest Service and the Interior Department respond to about 65,000 to 70,000 wildfires per year. At the National Interagency Fire Center, firefighting experts from multiple government agencies continuously monitor fire activity, weather and fuel conditions while strategically positioning Federal firefighters, ground equipment and aircraft to support wildfires across the country as the season shifts. In addition, federal agencies are conducting accelerated restoration activities nationwide aimed at healthier forests and rangelands and reduced fire risks in the years to come.
Federal, state, tribal and local agencies have developed preparedness programs that help families and communities prepare for and survive wildfire. Please visit Firewise http://www.firewise.org/and Ready Set Go! http://www.iafc.org/readySetGo for more information.