UAFA Urges Lawmakers to Take Action After Texas Panhandle Fires Spread

Across America, communities are facing a relentless wildfire threat. Once-in-a-generation wildfires are becoming an annual occurrence, scorching communities, displacing residents, and leaving behind a trail of devastation. While wildfires are a natural part of the ecosystem, their frequency, intensity, and destructive power are undeniable. The current system for responding to these blazes is simply not keeping pace, leaving communities vulnerable and firefighters facing insurmountable odds.

Unlike the swift and coordinated response of an urban fire department, the current wildfire response system is a complex web of state, local, and federal agencies often struggling to work in unison. This fragmentation leads to delays in deploying critical resources, leaving communities at the mercy of rapidly spreading flames. The recent Texas Panhandle fire serves as a stark reminder of this reality. By the time aerial firefighting assets arrived, days had passed, allowing the blaze to consume vast swathes of land, killing two people, injuring five firefighters and inflicting billions of dollars in economic damage. At its peak spread, it was consuming two football fields a second. Much of what has burned are productive ranches, some of the largest in the nation; this will have structural impacts on our nation’s food supply chain and economy.

Most people understand that their local fire department will respond to a structure fire in their community as soon as possible, containing the fire to keep it from spreading to other structures. However today, more structures are destroyed by wildfire than structure fires. There are no standard response times for wildfires. Each time a community is destroyed, the economic impact is catastrophic. From Paradise, to Denver, Lahaina and the Texas Panhandle, our communities are being devastated. Millions are affected by smoke inhalation and evacuation. As New Yorkers saw last summer, even they aren’t immune from choking smoke inhalation. We can’t stop wildfires from happening, but we can restructure our response so that when we need to protect our citizens and their property, we can. We need to acknowledge the urgent need for a national solution to this crisis.

Federal and state land management agencies respond to the challenge by pointing to budgets that haven’t grown at the same rate as the wildfire crisis.  We believe that response, while true, isn’t the only reason we are not successful. We believe the budgets do exist; we just need to redefine the way that they can be used. Americans deserve a wildland firefighting apparatus that is on the ready, year-round to respond to fires effectively and aggressively anywhere in the nation. And in truth this will not cost more money, it will cost less.

In the aftermath of these catastrophes, the taxpayers are on the hook for billions in economic impact, disaster recovery, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) response and insurance payouts. The recent Lahaina fire is estimated to cost over $3.2B in recovery, not to mention the incalculable cost of 101 human lives. The Lahaina fire went without any aerial fire suppression assets. These fire recovery costs all come back to the taxpayer through higher insurance premiums, impact fees or cash payments to cover their losses which are often financially destructive to their families. In wildfires, a dollar of prevention is worth a thousand dollars of recovery. Spend $1M (or much less) fighting a fire when it’s small, and you won’t spend $3B on recovery.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law established the Wildland Fire Management and Mitigation Commission (WFMMC), tasked with developing actionable recommendations to address the wildfire crisis. The Commission’s findings present a valuable opportunity for Congress to enact targeted solutions. By allocating resources aligned with the WFMMC’s recommendations, local, state, and federal entities can be strategically empowered to mitigate wildfire threats. The implementation of a robust national aerial firefighting apparatus, operational year-round, would offer a significant deterrent to wildfires, safeguarding lives and communities while promoting long-term economic stability.

It’s time to organize our national firefighting apparatus in a more efficient, streamlined manner that ensures all Americans can expect to see aerial firefighting assets overhead as soon as they are needed, not days later. This will give our firefighters on the ground the support they need to stay safe as they protect us, and it will save our nation the regular destruction of our communities.

The United Aerial Firefighting Association represents the interests of the Aerial Firefighters from across the nation who want to see a safer and more effective apparatus to protect our communities.

Tiffany Taylor
Tiffany Taylor
Tiffany Taylor is the Senior Policy Director for the United Aerial Firefighters Association. She has almost 25 years’ experience in federal government acquisition. Most recently she was the Senior Procurement Executive (SPE) and Program Management Improvement Officer (PMIO) for USDA, overseeing the buying of everything from commodities to research to all-hazards incident support (wildfires, animal disease outbreaks, COVID, etc.) and providing acquisition expertise and recommendations to the Secretary. As the SPE, she was responsible for the approval of all major non-IT acquisition strategies, like Forest Service Aviation and Retardant. As the PMIO, she established the requirement for all major non-IT programs to develop integrated program teams and develop program-level acquisition strategies. Prior to her SPE position she was the Chief of the Contracting Office for all Forest Service Incident Support contracts. In this role she was responsible for the effective execution of all contract actions issued for incident support. She also has experience purchasing aviation spare parts from European original equipment manufacturers and training simulators for Department of Defense agencies.

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