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Heinrich Cosponsors Legislation To Improve Federal Wildfire Response

WASHINGTON – As areas of New Mexico continue dealing with wildfire mitigation and devastation, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, cosponsored legislation to strengthen the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) wildfire preparedness and response efforts.

“In recent weeks, hundreds of New Mexicans have been forced to flee their homes as wildfires have ripped through their communities. I’ve met with residents, local elected officials, volunteers, as well as the crews that have been working on the frontlines of these fires. I cannot thank them enough for the resilience they have shown, and I want them to know I’m looking for additional resources to combat elevating wildfire risks at the federal level. That’s why I’m cosponsoring the FIRE Act to better prepare FEMA’s capabilities to prepare for and respond to wildfires in New Mexico,” said Heinrich. 

Senator Heinrich recently met with the Southwest Are Type 1 Incident Management Team 2 for a fire briefing and tour of key impacts areas of the McBride and Nogal Fires. That same day he also met with Lincoln County and Village of Ruidoso Emergency Managers to discuss recovery efforts and tour the temporary evacuation center set up at the Ruidoso Convention Center.

The FIRE Act would update the Stafford Act that governs FEMA—which was written when the agency primarily focused on hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods—to improve FEMA’s response to wildfires, including by accounting for melted infrastructure and burned trees as well as allowing FEMA to pre-deploy assets during times of highest wildfire risk and red flag warnings.

The bill would also ensure cultural competency for FEMA’s counseling and case management services, help to ensure relocation assistance is accessible to public infrastructure in fire prone areas, prioritize survivors’ housing needs after disasters, ensure equity of assistance for Tribal communities and Tribal governments, and examine ways to speed up the federal assistance process and improve the availability of fire insurance.

The legislation, introduced by U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), advanced out of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC) in February of this year and now awaits consideration on the Senate Floor. 

A one-pager of the FIRE Act can be found here, and a section-by-section can be found here.