Sonoma County was one of the first in the country to apply for a grant under a new FEMA program dedicated to pre-disaster mitigation, and President Joe Biden announced today that they would be getting the aid immediately.
Biden said during a meeting with governors of Western states on Wednesday that his administration was "playing catch-up," and that he was surprised at how little attention was paid to federal aid for firefighting under the last administration. As the New York Times reports, Biden asked for a briefing on preparedness efforts ahead of the new fire season, similar to briefings that presidents typically get ahead of hurricane season.
Among the immediate actions the federal government will take will be to provide bonuses to firefighters, and to extend the firefighting season so that "seasonal firefighters can stay on the job as long as they are needed," Biden said.
Also, a grant award to Sonoma County was announced: $37 million from the new Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program, which replaces the former Pre-Disaster Mitigation (PDM) program. According to FEMA, they received $3.6 billion in applications for funds, and there is only $500 million to distribute in the current grant cycle. The program aids primarily with flood control, infrastructure and utility resilience, and retrofitting of buildings, but also aids in various other costs including wildfire prevention measures.
Last year was the worst wildfire season on record for California, and this year looks to be potentially similar or worse due to drought conditions, though the season has barely just begun.
"Sonoma County knows all too well" the dangers of wildfires, President Biden said, noting that they were among the first to apply for the grant program when it opened up applications last September.
Biden also said he wanted to make sure that no firefighters were making less than $15 per hour. That permanent raise, along with upgrades to firefighting equipment and an early satellite detection system for wildfires are unlikely to be delivered in time for the current fire season, as the Times notes.
Governor Gavin Newsom also announced on Tuesday that the state had secured a Fire Management Assistance Grant (FMAG) from FEMA, specifically to address the ongoing Lava Fire in Siskiyou County. The grant, Newsom said, will assist local, state and tribal agencies responding to the fire, and they can apply for 75-percent reimbursement of eligible fire suppression costs.
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