How did the Obama administration’s response compare when reviewing the wildfire response in Texas that burned 2.5 million acres (3,900 square miles) of land as compared to a recent Mexico fire that burned about 390 square miles? How about other disasters?
Many feel that during the emergency in Texas, the federal government has been absent in their response. FEMA has not send teams of workers to help support, coordinate or fight the fires. That said, after the emergency local municipalities do have the ability to apply for grants to recover up to 75 percent of the funds used to fight the fires, but since a Major Disaster has not been declared, no funds from the President’s Disaster Relief Funds are made available.
Since early March, there have been 23 Fire Management Assistance Declarations in Texas associated with wildfires. Those declarations are generally issued within hours or days of the event when there is a threat of a major disaster. Short term programs are put in place allowing municipalities to recover up to 75 percent of the funds used as mentioned above.
None of the 23 wildfires have yet to meet the Obama administration’s threshold as a Major Disaster Declaration that would have put long-term federal recovery programs in place and provide direct funds from the President’s Disaster Relief Funds. Those relief funds would be extend beyond the 75 percent support.
Now on to Mexico, where a wildfire consuming less than 10 percent of the Texas wildfires garnered an immediate response from the United States federal government including Air Force cargo planes.
Just last month the U.S. sent two Air force cargo planes to help Mexico battle back wildfires in the northern part of it’s country, fires that burned 386 square miles. It’s a move that West Texas Congressman Francisco Canseco (R-Fort Stockton) thinks is a hypocritical one by the Obama administration as Texas has requested the same sort of federal aid but has been denied it.
We can definitely question the level of response here, but I figure the local communities in Mexico will not be able to apply for US grants to recover a significant portion of their costs to fight the fires. They just received a bit of US aid just like many other countries.
The real question … Have the Texas wildfires meet the threshold for a Major Disaster Declaration? If they did and the declaration was refused, was politics part of the equation?
Take a look at the 32 Major Disaster Declarations from 2011 on the FEMA website and then consider the following…
- On April 10, Reuters reported one Texas fire scorched 2,300 acres in one day as it moved through the small town of Fort Davis. An estimated 80 homes and buildings were destroyed.
- On April 14, a report indicated 23 homes were destroyed. (I think that may have been from the same area.)
- By April 19, CNN was reporting more than 170 homes were destroyed.
Instead of jumping to conclusions here, maybe we should all take a few minutes to try to figure out how the complex FEMA system works and how it can be improved. Maybe FEMA should take steps to better define Major Disaster Declarations, Emergency Declarations, and Fire Management Assistance Declarations? What is the threshold for each? What support is available for each? Can they some how put that into a one-page summary document?
Then again, eliminating FEMA as an option is not off the table. Simply because federal support seems to be very subjective – especially to those who receive or do not receive aid – this could possibly be described as another symptom of the disease.
Your comments? The president’s action (fund raising) and inaction (not touring disaster areas) seem telling to me.