Ore. lawmakers fight banning local crews from federal blazes

Ore. lawmakers fight banning local crews from federal blazes

Point to recent reversal of long-standing practice

WASHINGTON - Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., urged federal officials Thursday to restore a proven practice that lets the federal government keep using local fire departments as partners to fight wildfires.

The three lawmakers wrote Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt about their agencies’ recent suspension of a practice dating back to 1955 that authorizes local fire departments in Oregon to participate and support federal firefighting operations statewide.

“If this interpretation is allowed to stand, then valuable and necessary resources will be stranded, thereby hobbling all of our abilities to fight fires where and when they rise up,” Wyden, Merkley and Walden wrote.

“Only with the immediate support of these well-trained and equipped fire departments have we been able to somewhat limit the spread,” they wrote, “as well as the economic and habitat damages, of these fires on landscapes affected by climate change and drought.”

Wyden, Merkley and Walden noted that Oregon has suffered historically large wildfires in the past few years. In 2018 alone, Oregon had 1,880 fires that burned 846,411 acres across 1,322 square miles — an area larger than the state of Rhode Island. 

The text of their letter is available here.