The world watched as Maui experienced the deadliest wildfire our nation has seen in more than a century. This may be a new concept to some – the horrific consequences of an untamed wildfire – but our communities in the 27th Congressional District are all too familiar with the danger fires pose to American lives and property. We cannot allow this tragedy to pass without making real-world, substantive changes to the way we predict, prevent, track, communicate and fight these fires.
Last month I introduced the Fire Weather Development Act. This legislation would improve fire weather forecasting, detection and collaboration among all levels of government to better protect communities vulnerable to wildfires.
I was grateful to see the FWDA pass through the Science, Space, and Technology Committee last month with strong bipartisan support. I look forward to the bill passing the House and Senate with strong bipartisan support so the president can sign it into law this year. Time is of the essence.
As our suburbs grow, so does the human-to-wildfire interface, especially here in North LA. County. As a result, it is not sufficient nor responsible for elected officials to simply attribute the increased risks to climate change. We have to look at the root-cause elements of the fire triangle (fuel, oxygen, heat) and update the way we forecast fire weather, coordinate agencies, predict movement of fires and support firefighters and citizens with modern technology and communication tools.
In Maui, many people didn’t receive timely warnings from the local system, which “relied on a series of sometimes confusing social media posts,” according to the Associated Press. Survivors reported receiving no warning messages before the fire reached them, while others said messages appeared and then disappeared from their cell phones and they couldn’t find instructions. The “perfect storm” conditions were self-evident, yet government and locals were caught off guard. Unfortunately, these errors have cost over 100 people their lives.
My legislation would establish a modern, standardized program to improve emergency communications that are not reliant solely on cellular service. It also streamlines data collection for local communities; and improves research and monitoring tools, including the use of unmanned drone technology and artificial intelligence for forecasting. In short, this bill would serve as a critical force multiplier for our firefighters in defense of our communities. It brings a set of tools to the firefighter that we would bring to a soldier on a battlefront.
This bill also complements the groundwork laid out in my bipartisan Fire Information and Reaction Enhancement Act, which would help develop technology to improve the prediction and early detection of wildfires, as well as the distribution of critical information during these emergencies.
The FIRE Act would also authorize the construction of a “fire-weather testbed” to develop and test new technologies, which would enhance our ability to combat wildfires before they spread to catastrophic levels. Too many Americans have experienced firsthand how wildfires can take lives, ravage land, and irreparably damage communities.
Last year, there were almost 70,000 wildfires that burned over 7.5 million acres across the country. This month, America witnessed the deadliest wildfire we’ve seen in more than a century. It’s well past time to take real-world action, and the Fire Weather Development Act is a common-sense, necessary step toward better protecting American lives and property.
Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Santa Clarita, represents the 27th Congressional District, which includes the Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys. “Right Here, Right Now” appears Saturdays and rotates among local Republicans.