Friday, January 8, 2016

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Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Announces 2015 Wildfires Burned Record Acres, Urges Congress to Pass Wildfire Funding Fix

WASHINGTON-- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that in 2015, wildfires burned a record 10,125,149 acres across the United States, surpassing the previous record set in 2006. The Secretary renewed the call for Congress to pass the bi-partisan Wildfire Disaster Funding Act.
In 2015, there were more than 50 fires that exceeded 50,000 acres each; of those, 20 fires exceeded more than 100,000 acres each. In 2015, more than 4,500 homes and other structures were destroyed by wildfires and a total of 13 wildland firefighters, including 7 U.S. Forest Service firefighters, lost their lives in the line of duty.
Since 2000, fire seasons have grown longer, and the frequency, size and severity of wildland fires has increased. The 2015 fires stretched across federal, state and private land with Alaska, California, Oregon and Washington being especially hard hit. While the West saw the brunt of the fires, it is agency resources across the country-from New York to Arkansas to Florida-that feel the brunt of a Forest Service budget subsumed by firefighting costs. The cost of the Forest Service's wildfire suppression reached a record $243 million in a one-week period during the height of suppression activity in August. With a record 52 percent of the Forest Service's budget dedicated to fire suppression activities, compared to just 16 percent in 1995, the Forest Service's firefighting budget was exhausted in 2015, forcing USDA to transfer funds away from forest restoration projects that would help reduce the risk of future fires, in order to cover the high cost of battling blazes.
"These fires have very real human costs, as we lost seven members of the Forest Service firefighting team in the line of duty, and 4,500 homes were lost. We take our job to protect the public seriously, and recently, the job has become increasingly difficult due to the effects of climate change, chronic droughts, and a constrained budget environment in Washington. Congress must fix the fire budget to stop an ever-increasing amount of the operating budget going to fire suppression. Failing to do so will result in more deadly and devastating fires in the future," said Secretary Vilsack.

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