As the month of May begins, and the weather starts to warm, it is important to prepare for this year's fire season, in case of emergency or evacuation. Please be aware of developments regarding emergency evacuations near where you live, work, or where your children go to school. Be cognizant of evacuation routes that you may need to use should the situation call for it.
As the shadow of this fire season looms large, we may get bad news out of the courts. As many of you are well aware, a radical environmental activist group is suing the U.S. Forest Service over its use of fire retardant. Citing the risk of contamination of nearby water sources and firefighters' exposure to the retardant itself, they are demanding the courts grant an injunction on its use until firefighting agencies go through a long permitting process with the EPA to get the necessary permits to use fire retardant. This could take 1-3 years. This all stems from the fact that a very small fraction - less than .5% of all drops from 2012 to 2019 according to the Forest Service’s Environmental Impact Statement - may get within 300 feet of a water system such as a creek, lake or river, when firefighters drop fire retardant from aircraft. These activists claim it’s about contamination of water sources despite a stellar record and great effort to keep retardant on target. They deliberately forget that the ash, soot, and chemicals from burned homes due to an uncontrolled wildfire will contaminate water sources far more than a small amount of fire retardant used to stop the fire.
To stop this madness and protect not only firefighters' safety but also the lives and property of people in the West, I’ve teamed up with Congressman Jimmy Panetta and introduced legislation that carves out a Clean Water Act exemption for fire retardant. This will create legal protection for firefighting agencies to deploy aerial fire retardant as they see fit in compliance with already established regulations on when and where it can be used. In addition, I have also vocally supported the Forest Service and firefighting agencies' attempts to bring the danger of this case to the public. As chairman of the Forest Subcommittee on the House Ag Committee and a member of the Natural Resources Committee, I have had the opportunity to question Forest Service Chief Randy Moore on the use of fire retardant, and he has agreed that fire retardant is a critical tool that must be kept in our arsenal. I hope that the court will make the correct ruling and allow the continued use of fire retardant. If not, our legislation will go that route if it means protecting people's lives and property.
It should be obvious to everyone who has had to deal with wildfire in the West just how critical aerial-dropped fire retardant is. For starters, dropping it from aircraft keeps firefighters on the ground out of unnecessary risk when a wildfire gets too hot or moves too fast. Second, many of the wildfires in the west become so hot that they evaporate water, as a substitute, before it can quench the flames. Finally, deploying fire retardant ahead of advancing wildfire protects people's lives and property and also allows time for evacuations to be organized and carried out safely with no loss of life. In short, fire retardant is extremely important to our firefighters' ability to stop wildfire in the west. To have this important asset taken from them right as the 2023 fire season begins will endanger Western towns, rural Americans, firefighters, and people's lives and property. It will leave millions of people in the Western United States completely vulnerable wherever the next wildfire may strike.