A brutal U.S. fire season has helped build support in Congress to classify catastrophic wildfires as natural disasters like hurricanes or earthquakes, opening new sources of funding to pay for putting them out.
Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson said his bill is now co-sponsored by nearly 150 House members and has the support of more than 300 outside organizations, including cities, outdoors and conservation groups.
Agencies like the U.S. Forest Service currently borrow from non-fire accounts when fire suppression costs go overbudget. The practice has become commonplace as fire seasons have lengthened and worsened, affecting other agency activities such as hazardous fuels removal or timber harvesting.
More than 11 million acres have burned this year, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. The Forest Service has gone $700 million over budget on fire fighting, Simpson said.
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“Common sense says that wildfires should be treated like every other natural disaster,” he said.