WASHINGTON, AUGUST 14, 2015 AT 8:45 AM EDT -
Contacts: Jessica Kershaw (Interior), Interior_Press@ios.doi.gov
USDA Office of Communications, firstname.lastname@example.org
In light of the severity of current fire activity, the National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group (NMAC) has raised the National Fire Preparedness Level (PL) to 5 – the highest readiness level for wildland fire operations. With more than 60 large, active wildfires burning across 13 states and more than 19,000 interagency personnel deployed, NMAC, which consists of top federal and state fire managers, raised the preparedness level to reflect a high degree of wildfire activity, a major commitment of fire resources, and the probability that severe conditions will continue for at least a few days.
The National Weather Service today also issued red flag and severe fire weather warnings for several states across the West, including many that are already experiencing fires.
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack today highlighted the importance of safety and public awareness as firefighters work to address the growing threat of catastrophic wildfires in drought-stricken areas of the West this year.
“The nation’s wildland fire community of federal, state, tribal, and local agencies is working around the clock to ensure all firefighting resources are available to fight these active wildfires,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. “However, the conditions we are experiencing this fire season are stretching our resources and may force us to divert funds from prevention and restoration efforts just to keep up with fire suppression costs. That’s why we need a better way to fund severe fires, similar to how we manage costs for other natural disasters. This would give us the flexibility to fight these fires without taking away from important efforts like forest and rangeland restoration, fuels management and proactive community protection.”
The Secretaries also called for reforms in the way the federal government funds wildfire suppression efforts. Fighting fires continues to impact management of federal natural resource programs. To cover escalating fire costs, agencies continue to divert funds from other natural resource management and fire prevention programs to fund the wildfire suppression efforts.
“Fire seasons are growing longer, hotter, more unpredictable and more expensive every year, and there is no end in sight. Within just 10 years, two out of every three dollars the Forest Service gets from Congress will be spent on fire programs, which leaves much fewer resources for the very restoration projects that have been proven to reduce the risk of wildfire and improve forest health,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “We are at a tipping point. Congress must change the way it pays for wildfires by providing a fiscally responsible way to treat catastrophic wildfires more like the natural disasters that they are, end fire transfers, partially replenish our capacity to restore resilient forests, and protect lives and property against future fires.”
During periods of high wildfire activity and when assets are stretched thin, federal, tribal, state and local partners work together to prioritize wildfires so that those threatening life, property and valuable natural and cultural resources receive assets as quickly as possible. Professional wildfire managers adapt their strategies and tactics to suppress unwanted wildfires effectively and efficiently.
Wildfire activity has escalated in recent days after thunderstorms – many with little or no moisture –moved across parts of California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana, sparking hundreds of new fires. So far this year, 39,254 wildfires have burned nearly 6.4 million acres in the United States. The number of wildfires in 2015 represents about 80 percent of the 10-year average. However, the number of current acres burned represents about a 38 percent increase over the 10-year average at this point in the year.
The last time that the National Preparedness Level was raised to 5 was on August 20, 2013. The National Preparedness Level remained at 5 for seven days until it was dropped to 4 on August 26, 2013. This is the fifth time that PL-5 has been reached in the last 10 years.
The fire forecast for most of the West predicts above normal temperatures, below normal precipitation, and continuing drought in many areas into the fall.
Communities and individuals play a critical role in preventing fires and reducing the risks associated with fire. While lightning causes many fires, many others are caused accidentally. Residents of the more than 70,000 communities at risk from wildfires are urged to take proactive steps to remove flammable materials from around their structures and improve safety by developing community wildfire protection plans. Communities and residents can access educational resources available at www.fireadapted.org and through the “Firewise,” and “Ready, Set, Go!” programs.
More information on the current wildland fire situation in the West and federal suppression efforts is online at https://www.nifc.gov/fireInfo/fireInfo_main.html.
Members of the community in close proximity to wildfires are also reminded to keep your drones at home because if you fly them near a wildfire, air operations supporting the fire can't. The unauthorized use of a "drone" in the area of a wildfire poses serious safety risks to wildland fire aviators in the air and firefighters on the ground. Recent incursions have caused air operations over fires to be halted, increasing risks to firefighters and the public. For more information, watch the following Be smart, Be safe, Stay away video.