August 16, 2021

California Members of Congress, Senators Urge Department of Defense to Continue Supporting State and Local Efforts to Combat Wildfires

Washington, D.C. — Today, California Democrats Congressman Adam Schiff, Senators Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla, and Reps. Salud Carbajal and Jimmy Panetta, along with 27 members of Congress, sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin calling for the Department to immediately extend of the Defense Department’s FireGuard program — an invaluable resource for state and local firefighters responding to wildfires across the nation.

The FireGuard program plays a critical role in early fire detection and surveillance by providing near-real-time information on suspected wildfires, which helps save lives and property. If the DoD does not extend the program by September 30, states will not be able to access this critical information and will be required to use their own resources and budgets, which are already battered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

To date this year, 3.8 million acres of land across the United States have already burned caused by nearly 40,000 wildfires -- including the largest wildfire in California history. The National Interagency Fire Center projects that above-normal, significant fire potential will continue through November, fueled by drought and extreme weather events caused by climate change.

“It is becoming increasingly clear that wildfires will only get worse due to climate change and the extreme weather it brings,” the Members write in a letter. “States and local governments will continue to struggle as the resources to combat these fires becomes more onerous. By extending the FireGuard program, the Department will help states continue to utilize this invaluable asset without the fear of losing this resource in the fight against wildfires.”

The letter, led by Schiff, Feinstein, Padilla, Carbajal, Panetta, all California Democrats, is signed by 32 members of Congress, including Representatives Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-Calif.), Ami Bera (D-Calif.), Julia Brownley (D-Calif.), Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Jim Costa (D-Calif.), Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.), Anna G.Eshoo (D-Calif.), John Garamendi (D-Calif.), Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.), Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Ted Lieu, (D-Calif.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.), Grace F. Napolitano (D-Calif.), Scott Peters (D-Calif.), Katie Porter (D-Calif.), Linda T. Sánchez (D-Calif.), Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), Mark Takano (D-Calif.), Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), and Juan Vargas (D-Calif.).

Click here to read the letter, or read the full text below:

Dear Secretary Austin:

We write to thank the Department of Defense for the continued support it has provided firefighters in battling wildfires around the country, and to request that these efforts be expanded and extended until December 31, 2022. Unfortunately, the FireGuard program is scheduled to end in two months, and its ending brings new dangers to firefighters on the front lines. As we enter the 2021 wildfire season in California and with its potential to be even worse than the 2020 fire season, we believe the Department’s unique capabilities, especially those of the FireGuard program, will help to combat these increasingly devastating wildfires.

We appreciate that the Department extended its assistance to firefighters through the FireGuard program from December 15th, 2020 to September 30th, 2021; however we believe that the Department must extend this program further. During the 2020 fire season, the FireGuard program produced invaluable reports that provided early detections of fires and gave firefighters, as well as state and local agencies, the ability to assess the situation on the ground, which helped save lives and property. With fire seasons lasting longer and growing more dangerous each year due to climate change, ending the program in the middle of this year’s fire season could be devastating to state and local firefighting efforts, and potentially prove costly in terms of both lives and property.

The Congress stands ready and willing to assist the Department in providing it with the proper authority and funding needed to make sure the FireGuard program and other resources provided by the agency remain available for first responders combating wildfires around the country. In the coming months, we plan to draft legislative remedies to ensure the smooth continuation of FireGuard, and would welcome your participation and collaboration. As we continue to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic hardships it has brought to state budgets, Congress and the Department have an opportunity to work together.

It is becoming increasingly clear that wildfires will only get worse due to climate change and the extreme weather it brings. States and local governments will continue to struggle as the resources to combat these fires becomes more onerous. By extending the FireGuard program, the Department will help states continue to utilize this invaluable asset without the fear of losing this resource in the fight against wildfires.

Thank you and we look forward to working with you on this issue.

Sincerely,

Members of Congress

###