THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. This year our nation is experiencing one of the worst wildfire seasons in memory. Extreme weather and lightning strikes have helped spark an estimated 250 fires every day. More than 6.6 million acres have burned already, and more than 35 large fires continue in nine states. We've all witnessed the tragedy of family homes destroyed, and admired the bravery of firefighters and citizens joining efforts to battle the blazes. I saw it firsthand in Idaho last month, and I'll never forget it.
Today I want to talk with you about important new steps we're taking to help communities recover and to ease the threat of fires in the years ahead. For months now, we've been mobilizing federal resources to provide firefighters and communities the tools they need to combat the fires. More than 25,000 federal, state and local personnel have been engaged in the effort. We provided $590 million in emergency firefighting funds, and recently I declared Montana and Idaho disaster areas, making them eligible for more federal relief. But we must do more.
That's why I directed Interior Secretary Babbitt and Agriculture Secretary Glickman to prepare a report outlining a strategy to help communities recover from these fires, and to ensure that others are spared from similar tragedies in the future. Today I'm accepting the recommendations contained in this report and announcing the first steps we're taking to implement them.
First, saving lives and property is, and will remain, priority one. Our nation is blessed with the best firefighting force in the world. They're doing an extraordinary job in some of the most dangerous and difficult conditions imaginable. Some are finally returning home for well-deserved rest. But the fire season isn't over, and as long as the fires burn our firefighters will continue to receive our strong support to get the job done as quickly and safely as possible.
Second, we're launching new actions to help hard-hit communities recover as the smoke clears. Once the fires are out, the threat doesn't stop. Rain, for example, could trigger mudslides and dirty runoff threatens water quality. To help prevent further damage we've dispatched more than 50 rapid response teams to work with local communities to develop plans to repair damaged lands and protect precious water supplies.
In addition, we've just released nearly $40 million for 90 restoration projects throughout the West. We'll also soon establish one-stop centers in Idaho and Montana, so that citizens can gain quick access to assistance from unemployment aid to small business loans. We want to make sure the help gets to those who need it right away.
Finally, we must continue to take a long-range look to diminish the threats from fires in the years ahead. For almost 100 years our nation pursued a policy focusing on extinguishing all wildfires. It was well-intentioned, but as a result, many of our forests now have an unnatural buildup of brush and shrubs. This excessive undergrowth fuels forest fires, making them far more dangerous and difficult to control.
Our administration has taken a new approach to protect communities and reduce wildfire risks by getting rid of the forest underbrush that has accumulated over the last century. We're reducing the risk of fire on more than 2.4 million acres a year -- a fivefold increase since 1994. We want to work with communities to expand these efforts, in an environmentally sensitive way, particularly in those areas at greatest risk of wildfire.
Today's report provides a blueprint for action -- immediate steps to deliver assistance to hard-hit communities, new measures to build on our efforts to ease the threat of wildfires nationwide. The report recommends an additional $1.5 billion to carry out this strategy, and I'm committed to working with the Congress to secure this critical funding.
Throughout this wildfire season we've seen our fellow citizens come together to save lives and aid communities in need. That's the best of the American spirit. It's reflected in these new steps to help put out the fires today, help communities heal tomorrow, and help to reduce wildfire threats for years to come.
Thanks for listening.
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