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Bill could help battle fires

Proposed legislation would provide $75 million in grants to help reduce fire hazards

Posted: April 5, 2009 1:21 a.m.
Updated: April 5, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
A legislative package proposed by Senator Dianne Feinstein could mean more money to protect homes from seasonal firestorms, but a local congressman said he hasn't decided whether to support the measures.

The legislation introduced by Feinstein (D-California) on Wednesday helps cities and fire departments better protect homes from wildland fires, said Laura Wilkinson, Feinstein's press secretary.

The Fire Safe Communities Act increases emergency reimbursements under Federal Emergency Management Agency's Fire Management Assistance Grants. Currently communities receive up to 75 percent of their fire-fighting and emergency-service expenses when defending homes and structures from wildfires, Wilkinson said.

Under the Feinstein bill, communities in fire-hazard areas would be eligible for 90 percent reimbursement of their fire-fighting and emergency expenses covered under the FEMA program, Wilkinson said. The communities must implement new wildland fire codes or retrofit structures known to be vulnerable to wildfires, she said.

"On the surface, it looks like the legislation has some opportunities for the city," said Mike Murphy, city of Santa Clarita spokesman.

Feinstein's proposed measure also would provide $75 million in grant money for defensible space around homes, reduction of hazardous fuels and replacement of flammable construction materials with fire resistant materials, according to a Feinstein statement.

"We are encouraged that the (federal) government is aiding in our effort to promote defensible space as part of our fight to diminish fire fuels," Capt. Mike Brown, of the Los Angeles County Fire Department, said.

Congressman Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R-Santa Clarita) said he is reviewing the legislation. "I inherently support legislative goals to provide relief to communities hit hard by wildfires," he said.

Santa Clarita staff members will comb through the legislation, meet with County fire and prepare a report for the city council, Murphy said. "At some point, I'll ask the council to take a position on the legislation," he said. However, there is no set timetable, Murphy, the Santa Clarita said.

With the economy reeling, the expensive legislation might seemed ill-timed, but Wilkinson insisted that the measures represent an overall cost savings.

Studies show that for every dollar the federal government invests in fire-damage mitigation, four dollars are saved in rebuilding and recovery costs, she said.

The Feinstein legislative package includes two other bills, the Mortgage and Rental Disaster Relief Act and the Disaster Rebuilding Assistance Act, which are designed to help communities rebuild after wild fires.

All three bills must be reviewed by the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. There is no timeline for a vote on the bill, Wilkinson said.

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