Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Congressman blasts federal wildfire response

Congressman Michael McCaul, R-Austin, brought a panel of experts together yesterday to address the possibility that bureaucracy may have prevented a timely federal response to the wildfires that raged throughout Texas in the fall, possibly exacerbating the amount of damage that was done. McCaul held a congressional field hearing of the Homeland Security Oversight & Investigations Subcommittee at the Texas State Capitol in Austin yesterday to address the issue. He proposed that, because it had been clear for some time that Texas was in danger of experiencing ongoing wildfires, available aircraft resources should have been in or nearby the state and ready to go before the fires broke out. But the fire that broke out on Sept. 4 and ravaged Bastrop County–part of McCaul’s district—managed to burn for five days before aircraft were deployed. Tom Harbour, Director of U.S. Forest Service Fire and Aviation Assets, said in a testimony that part of the delay was due to some aircraft resources being used to fight fires elsewhere throughout Western United States. But he admitted that there were delays in deployment that could’ve been better addressed. McCaul also pressed panelists about the large volume of paperwork that’s required by the Federal Emergency Management Association for a fire event to be declared a federal emergency and for a county to receive aid. According to his testimony, it can take up to three years for counties to receive disaster relief aid, which goes to reimburse local organizations and individuals for the losses they incurred while fighting the fires...more

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