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Garcia bill to help firefighters passes House 

Rep. Mike Garcia R-Santa Clarita visits Trinity Classical Academy 12th grade students and shared about his role in Congress. 042224 Katherine Quezada/The Signal

Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Santa Clarita, said Tuesday he’s optimistic his bill with bipartisan support to improve firefighting technology will have a hearing in the Senate this summer.  

The Fire Weather Development Act, or House Resolution 4866, passed the House Monday by a vote of 341-48, with the only no votes coming from within his party cast by legislators who won’t support anything, he said.  

But he’s hopeful the across-the-aisle support — 191 Democrats and 150 Republicans voted “aye” — will give it a shot in a Senate that Democrats control by the tightest of margins. 

“There’s a good handful of people that just vote no on everything right now,” he said, referring to those who opposed the bill, in a phone interview Tuesday. He added that “a lot of folks saw it as a California problem.” 

Garcia said the recent losses experienced from wildfires in Texas, and before that in Hawaii, show how this is a national problem. 

The act looks at a number of goals, with a $32 million budget that Garcia called a re-appropriation of existing funds, as opposed to an added cost. 

The idea is to improve emergency communications and research, including the use of unmanned drone technology and a streamline of data collection. 

It also equips the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to improve the accuracy of fire weather and fire environment forecasts and warnings.  

“Some people saw it as a ‘climate-change thing,’” he said, “which it’s not. The fire threat is a real threat to us and it’s not going to get better.”’ 

A spokesman for the National Weather Service issued a response Tuesday from the Congressional Affairs Office for the NOAA stating the agency doesn’t comment on pending legislation, as the White House sets official policy for the administration. 

“However, generally speaking, we appreciate Congress’ attention to the threat posed to our communities by wildfires and their recognition of NOAA’s key role in support of our emergency management and land management partners,” according to an email Tuesday from Robbie Munro, spokesman for the NWS’ Los Angeles office.  

In the 27th Congressional District, about half of the open space is federal land, so Garcia saw it as a federal area of concern, he said. 

After several meetings with the Department of Forestry, L.A. County Fire Department, CalFire and the NOAA, Garcia said he realized there were missing pieces in the fight. 

Comparing the firefighters’ situation to placing soldiers in combat with outdated equipment, Garcia asked questions, he said. 

“Why aren’t we using some of the artificial intelligence to do the modeling and simulating for forecasting of fires and doing the satellite mapping of these hot spots?” he said. “Why aren’t we using unmanned aerial vehicles?” 

He said this technology could help reduce helicopter crashes by pilots who must fly into dangerous conditions to help map fire progress. 

There is no scheduled date for a Senate hearing on the bill as of the publication of this story. 

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