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Release No. 0211.12
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UPDATE: Federal Partners Continue to Support State and Local Partners as They Fight Wildfires

National Preparedness Level Raised to 4; Heightened response to fighting Waldo Canyon fire today

WASHINGTON, June 27, 2012 – As the federal family continues to aggressively respond to the wildfires in the Western states, the U.S. Forest Service, Department of the Interior, and FEMA today announced additional resources have been deployed to support state and local partners. In light of the severity of current fire activity, the National Interagency Fire Center has raised the national preparedness level to level 4, on a scale of 1-5. Preparedness Level 4 (PL 4) triggers increased planning for additional resources and greater oversight of resource allocations in order to achieve the most effective deployment. PL 4 calls for additional restrictions on the practice of prescribed fire application or managing fires for multiple objectives to ensure resources are being deployed to the highest priorities.

Seventeen airtankers have cycled in and out of firefighting action over the last 48 hours across the western states, and more than 8,400 personnel, 578 fire engines and 79 helicopters are operating on wildfires around the U.S. Approximately half of active federal wildfire-fighting resources are currently staged in Colorado. More than 760 federal, state and local firefighters and six helicopters are fighting the aggressive Waldo Canyon fire today in the hillsides west of Colorado Springs. Additionally, a total of nine large airtankers, including four military C-130s equipped with Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems, are currently in Colorado working on the Waldo Canyon and other fires, in support of local officials leading the fight against the wildfire.

Federal partners also continue to work closely with first responders and firefighters from local, state, and tribal agencies to combat and monitor large wildfires including those in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Montana Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

"As we continue this fight, the Forest Service and its federal partners continue to bring extensive resources to bear and work closely with our local partners to combat these destructive fires," said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. "Thousands of brave men and women on the front line are battling dry conditions, a lack of snowpack, excessive dead trees, hot weather and complex terrain to try to get the fires throughout the West under control."

The Waldo Canyon fire stretches in three directions across very dry forests. The fire has consumed more than 15,375 acres of forested land since Saturday, and has forced thousands of evacuations. With low humidity, winds as high as 65 mph and temperatures in the 90s forecast for the coming days, the situation remains challenging as firefighters work in what is described as very difficult terrain.

Through the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, which mobilizes assets from across the country, firefighters, incident management teams, airtankers, helicopters, fire engines and other resources are being provided to supplement state and local resources as teams continue to respond to fires across the West.

Earlier today, FEMA's National Watch Center in Washington, D.C. elevated to an enhanced watch level, which means that additional personnel are assisting with monitoring activities related to the wildfires. On Sunday, FEMA approved Fire Management Assistance Grants (FMAGs) that authorize the use of federal funds to help states and local entities with firefighting costs for the Waldo Canyon Fire in El Paso County, Colorado; the Weber Fire in Montezuma County, Colorado; and the Hollow Fire in Sanpete County, Utah. An FMAG makes FEMA funding available to pay 75 percent of the state's eligible firefighting costs for managing, mitigating and controlling the fire. These grants do not provide assistance to individual home or business owners and do not cover other infrastructure damage caused by the fire.

On June 6, FEMA approved a FMAG for the High Park Fire in Larimer County, Colorado, and on June 22 approved a FMAG for the Eagle Mountain/Dump Fire in Utah County, Utah.

FMAGs are provided through the Disaster Relief Fund and made available by FEMA to assist in fighting fires that threaten to cause a major disaster. Eligible items can include expenses for field camps; equipment use, repair and replacement; mobilization and demobilization activities; and tools, materials and supplies.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior, in partnerships with states and local agencies, have developed a cohesive strategy to respond to the increase in wildfires in recent years by focusing on:

  • Restoring and maintaining resilient landscapes. Through forest restoration activities such as mechanical thinning and controlled burns, officials can make forests healthier and less susceptible to catastrophic fire.
  • Creating fire-adapted communities. The Forest Service and its partners are working with communities to reduce fire hazards around houses to make them more resistant to wildfire threats.
  • Responding to Wildfires. This element considers the full spectrum of fire management activities and recognizes the differences in missions among local, state, tribal and Federal agencies.

On average, the USDA Forest Service and the Department of the Interior bureaus respond to about 16,500 wildfires per year that occur on land under their jurisdiction and assist state and local agencies in responding to a significant number of the approximately 60,000 wildfires per year that occur on land under their jurisdiction. Federal firefighters, aircraft, and ground equipment are strategically assigned to parts of the country as the fire season shifts across the nation. Firefighting experts will continuously monitor conditions and move these assets as necessary to be best positioned and increase initial response capabilities. In addition, federal agencies are conducting accelerated restoration activities nationwide aimed at healthier forests and reduced fire risks in the years to come.

Federal land managers are also helping communities prepare for wildfire. Federal partnerships with state, tribal and local agencies strengthen preparedness programs, such as Firewise http://www.firewise.org/ and Ready Set Go! http://www.iafc.org/readySetGo that help families and communities prepare for and survive wildfire. You can also visit FEMA's Ready.gov http://www.ready.gov , to learn more about steps you and your family can take now to be prepared for an emergency.

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