Nevada seeks again to overturn FEMA denial of wildfire aid
RENO — The state of Nevada and members of Congress are again appealing to the U.S. government to reverse an earlier decision to deny disaster assistance to a remote rural area ravaged by a huge wildfire near the Idaho line.
Kacey KC, Nevada’s state forester and fire warden, wrote to the Federal Emergency Management Agency this week for help recouping costs associated with the South Sugarloaf Fire that burned nearly 360 square miles.
The agency denied the initial request Aug. 24 for a federal Fire Management Assistance Grant. Critics say the agency doesn’t fully appreciate the damage fires inflict on lightly populated, rural communities.
The lightning-caused fire prompted the evacuation of about 300 people and threatened infrastructure such as State Route 225, multiple power lines, a state radio repeater, numerous cellular and radio towers, 403 listed archaeological sites and 20 rural historic buildings.
Even when fires don’t destroy structures, KC said they can be devastating to the landscape, which has a major economic impact that’s difficult to quantify. Many of the rural communities are dependent on income from ranching, outdoor recreation and energy development.
“Just because they have sparsely populated communities doesn’t mean the affect isn’t just as great on them,” KC told the Reno Gazette Journal .
FEMA requires FMAG applicants to apply when the disaster is occurring, a challenge more difficult in remote areas.
“We all have data that exists out there but often times in the moment we can’t grab that data,” she said.
Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., wrote in his second letter to FEMA administrator Brock Long on Thursday that the agency did not adequately weigh the consequences of fire damage to public land that’s used for grazing, energy development and other uses. He’s concerned the current eligibility standards “put the state’s rural communities at a disadvantage.”
Catherine Cortez-Masto, D-Nev., and Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., made similar pleas earlier. Amodei is scheduled to meet with FEMA Region Nine officials on Monday.
The grants which repay 75 percent of state costs for suppression of large fires are based on four criteria: threats to lives and property, including infrastructure and watersheds; availability of state and local firefighting resources; high fire danger conditions and potential major economic impact.
A FMAG grant also often triggers eligibility for future grants to help communities recover from the fire and prevent future destructive fires.
KC said the state will likely be responsible for about 40 percent of the $13.6 million it cost to suppress the South Sugarloaf Fire. The state’s annual suppression budget is about $2.5 million. She anticipates she will need to ask the Legislature for supplemental fire suppression funding this year.