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Environment

Interior Secretary announces $103M for wildland firefighting efforts, firefighter health

Deb Haaland standing behind a black podium with the National Interagency Fire Center logo on it.
Richard Rodriguez
/
Boise State Public Radio

The Interior Department has announced it will increase efforts to combat wildfires.

Speaking at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise Friday, Secretary Deb Haaland announced that $103 million would be used to address increasingly destructive wildfire seasons and the health challenges firefighters face. Most of the money will be used to manage fuels in high-risk areas and rehabilitate lands after fires.

Haaland said most of the funds will be used to manage fuels in high-risk areas and rehabilitate lands after fires. Some funding will also go to firefighters’ health.

“Wildland firefighters work in incredibly stressful environments that can take a significant toll on their overall health and well-being, as well as on the family members who love them,” she said.

Coordinating agencies to provide trauma-informed mental-health care is also critical, she said. This includes measures to prevent and treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and mitigate firefighters’ exposure to harmful fuels.

The West is already seeing an increase in mega-fires fueled by extreme droughts and heatwaves due to climate change.

Interior’s Jeff Rupert said wildland firefighters respond to thousands of fires annually. On Thursday alone, they responded to more than 100.

“We work with fire years now. It's no longer a fire season,” he said.

He said that reducing fire risk and recovering after fires is now happening simultaneously.

Like many other industries, hiring firefighters has been challenging, Rupert said. These new funds will hopefully bolster recruitment and alleviate firefighters’ workload.

The funds will be available at the beginning of the new fiscal year in October.