Congresswoman Kim Schrier and FEMA meet with local fire chiefs to discuss resources for wildfires

CLE ELUM, WA – Congresswoman Kim Schrier and representatives from the Federal Office of Emergency Management (FEMA) met with fire chiefs and law enforcement in Kittitas County to discuss resources for wildfires.

During a round-table discussion, FEMA representatives talked about federal grants available for fire prevention and grants that can help after a fire.

FEMA also told fire chiefs and law enforcement that when asking for resources, calling the national guard is a last resort. First local agencies should inform FEMA of what their needs are. If FEMA can fill those needs another way, they will.

Congresswoman Schrier discussed getting $750,000 in funds through a recent infrastructure bill to help the city of Roslyn with fire mitigation. This money will allow the city to have prescribed burns to burn underbrush.

“Protecting our infrastructure involves preventing these catastrophic wildfires,” Schrier said.

It could also allow for the creation of a small diameter mill. This mill would allow for the small trees thinned from the forest to have somewhere to go.

“It’s a place to use the underbrush to thin our forests to make them more resilient, to bring jobs to the area and to have material here close to home to bring down housing prices,” Schrier said.

In order to make the mill a reality, the forest service needs to guarantee a steady supply of small trees will be going to the mill.

Among all the resources discussed, some people had concerns they wanted addressed.

Kittitas Valley Fire and Rescue Chief John Sinclair said he wanted the language in the Fire Management Assistance Grant to be changed to provide reimbursements to assisting fire agencies based off the footprint of a fire. As written now, the grant reimburses agencies based off county.

“It’s a defect in the overall funding law, fires don’t really care about county lines, or jurisdictional boundaries,” Sinclair said.

Sinclair used the Evans Canyon fire as an example. This fire started in Yakima County then moved into Kittitas County. Even though, Kittitas Valley Fire and Rescue helped contain the fire, only Yakima County crews got reimburse for the resources used because the fire started in Yakima County.

Sinclair said he spoke with someone in the Washington D.C. FEMA office and was told the FEMA regional administrator can use their discretion in how that grant is awarded.

The new Regional Administrator for FEMA Region 10, Willie Nunn, said he would look into it.

“If the law gives me discretion, I’m going to make sure we get the best bang for our buck so we can help as much as we can,” Nunn said.

Kittitas County Sheriff Clay Meyers also brought up the need for better evacuation routes because some areas only have one way in and one way out.

“We don’t want to be another paradise [fire] we don’t want to see people injured if there’s something we could’ve done to avoid it,” Meyers said.

FEMA said 10% of one of their grants can be used to help plan evacuation routes. Congresswoman Schrier said agencies might have to request funding for evacuation routes at a local level.

Right now, Sheriff Meyers said the plan is to monitor fire behavior and assess ways they could make existing roadways work better for evacuation.

Bringing FEMA into the conversation was important to Congresswoman Schrier so everyone can get on the same page.

“I thought it was really important to bring FEMA in and emergency management in so we were all hearing the same thing and we can make sure we are prepared for the next fire season,” Schrier said.

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Article Source: Fox 11