Justus Caudell | The Tribune,
Visits Active North Star Fire
Published September 8, 2015
OMAK, WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell visited the Incident Command Post of the North Star Fire in Washington state, where she met with tribal leaders, toured the fire line and surrounding areas, and thanked firefighters and support personnel for their service.
Jewell attended a briefing with Incident Commander Ed Lewis and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region X Regional Administrator Kenneth Murphy, where she received an update on the efforts to contain the fires and the work by federal partners on the ground – the U.S. Forest Service, the Department of the Interior, the National Weather Service and FEMA. Jewell emphasized that safety is the key priority as firefighters work to contain the fire and protect human life and property.
“The men and women who are working to fight these fires are dedicated professionals and true heroes,” Secretary Jewell said. “Interior and our many partners on the ground are working around the clock to protect local communities, tribal lands, and natural areas that continue to experience the devastating effects of this year’s fire season.”
More than 250 Department of the Interior personnel are among the about 1,800 personnel in the coordinated, interagency response to the North Star Fire. Overall, about 4,500 DOI personnel along with 10,000 Forest Service firefighters are working in partnership with tribal, local, international firefighters to battle fires in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California and other western states.
Jewell’s visit follows the Obama Administration’s Aug. 21 approval of an Emergency Declaration, which included 11 counties as well as the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Kalispel Tribe of Indians, Spokane Tribe of Indians, and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation.
Washington Governor Inslee requested the disaster declaration on Aug. 19 due to the extreme wildfires burning throughout eastern Washington in what has become one of the most severe fire seasons in recent years.
In addition to the emergency declaration, FEMA has approved 11 Fire Management Assistance Grants to help with ongoing firefighting costs. They also sent an Incident Management Assistance Team (IMAT) that was deployed to the state’s Emergency Operation Center – while another team from FEMA’s Mobile Emergency Response Support (MERS) detachment – along with a liaison officer, who traveled to the Colville Reservation to provide support and communication capability to the tribes’ Emergency Operations Center.
Jewell also met with tribal leaders from the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation. The North Star Fire has burned more than 209,000 acres, primarily on the reservation, and approximately 3,000 single structures are threatened.
To date, wildfires have burned more than 8 million acres across the country – more than double the number of acres burned last fire season – destroying lives, homes, and precious natural and cultural resources. Federal agencies are spending an average of $10 million per day fighting fires in the Pacific Northwest.
The Obama Administration, along with bipartisan Members of Congress, have called for a new funding framework that would treat wildfires similar to other natural disasters. The budget proposal would provide greater certainty in addressing growing fire suppression needs while preserving funds meant for prevention and other non-suppression programs, such as fuels reduction and post-fire rehabilitation.
Yesterday, the National Preparedness level (PL) was lowered to PL-4 after being at the highest level, PL-5, for more than three weeks. The National Multi-Agency Coordinating (NMAC) group has deployed a record number of federal firefighting resources. In addition, 200 soldiers from Fort Lewis, Wash., and international air and ground resources from Australia, Canada and New Zealand are bolstering efforts.
More information on the current wildland fire situation in the West and federal suppression efforts, are available from the National Interagency Fire Center.