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South Coast Agencies Hold Wildfire Mitigation ‘Listening Session’ with Carbajal

The congressman pressed for more money in the federal budget for wildfire suppression efforts

Representatives of Santa Barbara County fire agencies gather Tuesday for a listening session with Rep. Salud Carbajal to discuss wildfire suppression. Click to view larger
Representatives of Santa Barbara County fire agencies gather Tuesday for a listening session with Rep. Salud Carbajal to discuss wildfire suppression. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Congressman Salud Carbajal met with Santa Barbara County's South Coast fire agencies this week to hear directly how the federal government can best support fire mitigation and suppression to reduce the threat of catastrophic blazes, as well as to discuss legislation being passed through Congress.

The gathering in Santa Barbara brought together representatives from various agencies, including the Los Padres National Forest, the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, the Santa Barbara City Fire Department, the Montecito Fire Protection District and the Carpinteria-Summerland Fire Protection District.

Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, pressed for the inclusion of an adjustment to the wildfire budgeting practice in the omnibus appropriations bill funding for the remainder of fiscal year 2018.

The spending bill — which was signed into law last week — addresses the increasing cost of fire suppression, and provides parity with other natural disasters such as flood, hurricane and tornado response.

Unlike other natural disaster responses, which can tap emergency funds, the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior were required to fight fires within their appropriation budgets and, if costs exceeded the budget, to divert money from other initiatives such as land management.

“It’s going to change the culture, now and in the future, of how we treat fires like we treat all other disasters,” Carbajal told the group gathered at the Santa Barbara County Fire Department headquarters.

The legislation provides roughly $2.5 billion each fiscal year if the agencies exceed their suppression budget, Carbajal said, leaving prevention funds intact and reducing the severity of fires.

“It’s a $20 billion fund ($2.5 billion allocated annually) … that will be triggered if, and when, we need to draw resources from it for fires throughout the nation and California,” Carbajal said.

The last fiscal year was the U.S. Forest Service's most expensive fire season on record, with costs at $2.4 billion for wildfire suppression, requiring $527 million in transfers from other mitigation accounts within the Forest Service, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Forest Service is an agency of the Department of Agriculture.

Tuesday’s event was billed as a “wildfire mitigation listening session,” with Carbajal pledging his commitment “to work together to fight and prevent fires.”

The session kicked off a series of similar meetings Carbajal is slated to hold with area stakeholders.

The roundtable discussion included the Los Padres National Forest, Santa Barbara District Ranger Pancho Smith; Mark Von Tillow, a Forest Service division chief; forest fuels officer Nic Elmquist; Santa Barbara County Fire Department Battalion Chief Rob Hazard; Lee Waldron, operations division chief for the Santa Barbara City Fire Department; Kevin Taylor, division chief of operations for the Montecito Fire Protection District; Carpinteria-Summerland Fire Protection District Chief Ray Navarro; and Fred Tan, county fire’s vegetation management officer.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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