Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley this week introduced an amendment to the Senate’s defense bill that would help train additional members of the National Guard to fight wildfires.
The Wyden-Merkley amendment would authorize federal funding to train Guard members for wildfire response. It would also give first preference to states with the most federal forest lands – states like Oregon that have been hard-hit by this year’s record-breaking wildfire season. Their amendment was introduced to a bill the Senate is currently considering that would fund national defense programs for the next fiscal year.
“As the threat of catastrophic wildfires grows each fire season, so does the need to get more people on the front lines to protect our communities,” Wyden said. “Sen. Merkley and I introduced a provision to the National Defense Authorization Act to expand the federal government’s list of good options and train more Guard members to battle these infernos alongside their friends and neighbors.”
“You can’t fight a fire without firefighters – and as we’ve seen during this devastating fire season, shortages of trained firefighters can put a huge squeeze on fire suppression efforts at the very moment when they are most critical,” said Merkley. “We know already that the men and women of the National Guard are brave, disciplined, and committed to protecting our communities. Getting them trained up early will mean more people fighting these huge fires more quickly.”
Fourteen wildfires across Oregon are burning almost 500,000 acres currently, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Oregon’s largest fire right now, the Chetco Bar fire, is more than 188,000 acres today. And at more than 41,000 acres, the Eagle Creek Fire has seared the landscape of Oregon’s iconic Columbia River Gorge.
Last week, Wyden and Merkley, along with Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and nine other Democratic and Republican senators urged Senate Leaders Mitch McConnell and Charles E. Schumer to include a wildfire funding fix in any future disaster aid legislation that passes through Congress.