The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has shot down Montana’s request for disaster relief, following a destructive wildfire season that cost the state millions.
Governor Steve Bullock had requested for $44 million in disaster funding late last year, but the agency turned him down. FEMA had previously granted Montana $11 million, which covered some of the expenses related to eight different fires.
Montana’s last fire season, which occurred between June and September 2017, burned an estimated acreage of 1,295,959 acres. Two of the roughly 21 active fires during the season consumed over 100,000 acres.
The state spent its entire two-year $60 million emergency fund for wildfire suppression last year. The cost of the damages was so high, that the state had used up its emergency fund even before the last fire season had ended.
Bullock’s request for $44 million, sent to President Trump in mid-November, was done under a presidential major disaster declaration.
“It certainly could have meant replenishing some of that fire fund that was used up,” Montana Disaster and Emergency Services division administrator Delila Bruno told MTPR.
FEMA responded in December, denying the disaster aid and forcing Montana to make do with the $11 million it had previously received.
“It has been determined that the damage from this event was not of such severity and magnitude as to be beyond the capabilities of the state and affected local governments,” FEMA administrator Brock Long wrote in the agency’s response.
“Those [FEMA grants], we’ve taken advantage of as much as we think we can,” Bruno commented. “A lot of those costs that are incurred are because you’re going and putting little fires out, and that’s the part that gets overlooked. That one-acre fire that you put out could have saved a town, could have saved somebody’s farm, could have saved a lot of different infrastructure. But because you did such a good job at it you don’t have the dollar amount in damage to show the folks.”
Bruno argued that compared to the types of disasters FEMA typically provides major disaster relief for – hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes – Montana’s long, drawn-out fire season “does not fit the part.”
“From these wildfire prone states, what should we do in the next few years to change some policy, to change some rules on wildfires and make sure that they are eligible for disaster assistance,” she commented.
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