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Murray, Cantwell call for additional firefighting money

— A dozen U.S. senators, including Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both D-Wash., have sent a letter to Senate leaders calling for swift passage of President Obama’s emergency supplemental funding request, which would allocate $615 million to fight wildfires.

The money, if approved, would be available immediately.

With persistent droughts, dry forest conditions and new fires starting daily, the West has experienced a particularly harsh fire season, Murray and Cantwell said. At the current rate, fire suppression funding will be needed than what’s appropriated this fiscal year.

“We cannot afford to wait another year to fix this urgent problem,” the senators wrote. “We urge you to take up the president’s emergency funding request to deal with wildfire funding once and for all.”

The cost of fighting wildfires has regularly exceeded the amount appropriated by Congress in past years. To cover the need for additional funds, money must be redirected from mitigation and prevention efforts.

The senators also said key prevention programs, such as the hazardous fuel removal program, have lost funding in the past two years.

To ensure that fires are treated like other natural disasters and ensure that both firefighting and prevention efforts are adequately funded, the senators urged passage of the bipartisan Wildlife Disaster Funding Act.

“In the last two years, the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Interior have been forced to take money from other important programs to cover the cost of fighting wildfires,” the senators wrote in the letter. “We must act immediately to pass emergency supplemental appropriations to ensure we do not continue this vicious cycle of fire funding, and include legislation to permanently fix the fire funding problem, such as the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act of 2013.”

Fires are burning in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah, Arizona and California. Both Oregon and Washington have declared states of emergency.

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