The City of Santa Rosa celebrates Congress’ passage of S. 3092 FEMA Improvement, Reform and Efficiency Act of 2022, also known as the FIRE Act. Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously adopted the bill, and earlier this week the U.S. Senate agreed to the House amendments and passed the bill. The FIRE Act, authored by U.S. Senator Alex Padilla and co-sponsored by U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, will now head to President Biden’s desk for his signature.
The City of Santa Rosa strongly supports the FIRE Act, which will update the Stafford Act to meet the future recovery needs of communities impacted by wildfires.
“Since the aftermath of the Tubbs Fire, Santa Rosa has been working closely with FEMA to rebuild a more resilient community,” said Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Rogers. “Along the way, we had to overcome federal regulations and policies that have added significant time and expense to our recovery and rebuilding process. Over the past five years, the City, working with our Congressional Delegation, has been leading the effort to reform federal recovery policies to meet the needs of fire-impacted communities. Senator Padilla’s leadership, along with Senator Feinstein, Representatives Mike Thompson and Jared Huffman, on the FIRE Act will ensure that federal policy will continue to adapt to meet today’s disaster mitigation and recovery needs.”
“The City continues to use our experience from prior fires to educate Congress on the need to reform FEMA’s policies, like relocation assistance policy. The FIRE Act will provide FEMA with additional flexibility to help address the recovery needs of fire-impacted communities and help them rebuild faster and make them more resilient,” said Santa Rosa City Manager Maraskeshia Smith.
After the Tubbs Fire, the City of Santa Rosa requested federal recovery funding to relocate Fire Station 5, which was destroyed during the fire, from a high fire risk area to a safer location. The City was denied federal funding because current federal regulations demand proof that the facility is and will be subject to repetitive heavy damage, primarily applicable to non-fire disasters like flooding. The FIRE Act will require a review of current relocation assistance policies and regulations.
“After years of increasingly catastrophic wildfires in the West, it has become clear that FEMA’s practices for helping communities respond to and recover from wildfires do not adequately meet the need,” said Senator Padilla. “The FIRE Act is an important step to help ensure that FEMA’s disaster preparedness and response efforts fully address the unique nature of wildfires and their impacts on our communities. I’m grateful to see this critical bill pass and urge the President to sign it swiftly into law.”
“California remains on the frontlines of the climate crisis, and as wildfires and drought continue to threaten our communities, we must ensure that we have the resources we need to efficiently prepare and respond to disasters,” said Rep. Mike Thompson. “In 2017, the Santa Rosa Fire Station No. 5 was burned to the ground, but due to the Stafford Act requiring evidence of repeated damage, FEMA would not release funding for repair. The FIRE Act updates the Stafford Act so local communities like Santa Rosa can receive the resources they need to rebuild from disasters. The bill will also help us provide a robust response to wildfires, pre-deploy resources before potential disasters, and improve equitable disaster assistance. I'm proud to deliver this legislation to ensure FEMA’s disaster preparedness can fully address wildfires and the communities they impact.”
“Climate change is accelerating, and our policies need to keep pace so communities can withstand the worst of its impacts – like the devastating wildfires my district has been battling year after year,” said Rep. Jared Huffman. “This week’s Senate vote on our FIRE Act is an important step towards reaching that goal. This bill will help FEMA evolve its practices to respond faster and prioritize the needs of impacted communities and survivors while improving partnerships with tribal governments. I’m glad to see our bill on its way to be signed into law for the health and safety of our communities.”
Key Sections of the FIRE Act are as follows:
- Pre-Deployment of Resources Before Potential Wildfire Disasters: Direct FEMA to initiate a process to pre-deploy resources during red flag warnings – periods of high winds and high temperatures, which are the most likely time for catastrophic wildfires to start – just like FEMA already does in advance of hurricane warnings.
- Improved Relocation Assistance and Consistency in Federal Support: Help ensure relocation assistance is accessible for public infrastructure in fire-prone areas. Ensure that FEMA provides consistency when responding to wildfire-specific damage, such as repairing and mitigating contamination from melted infrastructure.
- Equity: Require FEMA to provide effective crisis counselors and case managers to ensure that underserved and disadvantaged communities receive equitable treatment when accessing federal disaster assistance.
- Response Speed and Housing Assistance: Require a study to improve the speed of assistance in response to wildfires and to identify any gaps in the federal wildfire response. It also mandates FEMA to evaluate the effectiveness of its housing assistance programs for low-income residents who live in multi-family housing or doubled-up situations.
- Tribal Emergency Operations Centers: Ensure that tribal governments can also access assistance to upgrade their emergency operation centers, which provides tribal governments equal standing with state and local governments.