After devastating year for fires, senators look for funding fix

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Getting ready for the next big blaze. Fires devastating the West this year have claimed homes, lives and billions of dollars. Senators in Washington say they are looking for a solution to how wildfire readiness is funded. An Idaho native says he wants to see action.

Dave Zortman says his community, not government services, brought his company back to its feet.

“They weren’t here when we needed them,” said Dave Zortman, manager of the lumber mill Sticks and Stones in Shoshone, Idaho.

Zortman lost almost everything in the Lagoon Fire. He says the Bureau of Land Management and local fire department were not at his side, but his community was.

“The employees, the neighbors, have been unreal. Just totally unconditional support. They’ve been here every minute, they had a fundraiser for us and that’s what we got the new firewood processor with,” said Zortman.

Zortman isn’t satisfied with the government response. With businesses and lives in jeopardy, he says he wants more federal preparedness.

“Do their job and put the fires out before they get big. The problem ain’t the fuel, the problem is planning,” said Zortman.

Folks here on Capitol Hill are trying to come up with a solution to the planning issue Zortman is concerned about. Including his Senator Jim Risch (R-ID).

“The Forest Service has not been able to do the kind of preventative work that they need to do, making probably more spending in future years probably because they haven’t been able to do the preventative work,” said Risch.

Risch met with a bipartisan group of senators at the United States Forest Service to discuss legislation he is co-sponsoring that would direct funding to benefit programs and preparedness. Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) says we use over half the Forest Service budget fighting fires rather than preventing them.

“It means the Forest Service can’t do the work on the front end to do the fire mitigation that will prevent the fires. It is we have been it may be the best example of being ‘penny-wise and pound-foolish’ that I have ever seen,” said Bennet.

The senators say they'd like to attach their legislation to a potential disaster relief package for Puerto Rico. As of now it only has the support of western senators.