Impacts of the 2017 Wildfires in the United States
2167 Rayburn House Office Building
This is a hearing of the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management.
Summary of Subject Matter
Witnesses (Updated March 19, 2018):
Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management
(Remarks as Prepared)
The purpose of today’s hearing is to explore the lessons learned from the catastrophic 2017 wildfire season that led to a record number of deaths and destroyed land and critical infrastructure throughout 10 western states, particularly California.
First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers are with all those who have been, and continue to be impacted by these wildfires, as well as their fellow Americans working to restore vital services to the affected communities.
As the subcommittee with primary jurisdiction over the Federal Emergency Management Agency, it is our responsibility to hear from FEMA and state and local emergency managers, including fire departments, who led the response to, and are driving the recovery from the fires.
Unfortunately, 2017 was marked by many major disasters, and while there has been focus on Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, 2017 also included one of the worst wildfire seasons in United States history. Nationwide, over 66,000 wildfires burned over 9.7 million acres of land. In California alone, some 7,000 wildfires burned through over half a million acres of land – an area larger than the size of New York City and Philadelphia combined.
The 2017 wildfire season was the most destructive and costliest for California in its history and the third most destructive season nationwide. It is imperative that we address the destruction caused by the 2017 wildfire season and work to inform long-term policy solutions while highlighting the importance of mitigation and resiliency.
On November 30, 2017, the Committee unanimously approved legislation I introduced – the Disaster Recovery Reform Act – on a bipartisan basis because of the good work that began here with this subcommittee. This legislation incorporated key provisions included in the SMART Rebuilding Act introduced by Chairman Denham. I want to thank Chairman Denham for his leadership on this issue.
The focus of DRRA and the SMART Rebuilding Act is to place emphases on predisaster mitigation to help ensure that our communities are well equipped to withstand disasters of all kinds. There is a clear return on investment from mitigation: for every $1 spent on mitigation, the taxpayer saves $6 to $8.
The rebuilding that must be done in the wake of these wildfires provides an opportunity to encourage smart, resilient rebuilding, increased mitigation measures, and cost-effective federal investments.
It is my hope that an examination of last year’s wildfire season will help inform how to strengthen our ability to withstand future disasters of all types across the Nation.