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McKeon works on second fire bill

Posted: April 14, 2009 1:20 a.m.
Updated: April 14, 2009 9:00 a.m.
As Congressman Howard P. "Buck" McKeon is busy reviewing a fire-safety bill introduced in the U.S. Senate recently, one of his aides is equally busy detailing the fire-fighting measures in the wilderness bill co-sponsored by the Congressman.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., introduced a bill April 1 that increases funding to local fire agencies and helps communities adopt fire-safe practices. McKeon is reviewing the bill, said Bob Haueter, McKeon's deputy chief of staff.

The Feinstein bill may be the second piece of fire-fighting legislation McKeon gets behind in the same calendar year, said Lindsey Mask, McKeon's press secretary.

McKeon co-sponsored the Eastern Sierra and Northern San Gabriel Mountains Wild Heritage Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law March 30. The legislation helps preserve wilderness areas, but it also deals with fire-fighting where wilderness areas meet residential property, Haueter said.

Language was added to the bill to allow agencies to conduct fire prevention in wilderness areas. This includes brush and dry-grass clearance, but doesn't allow for construction of large fire breaks or for tree-limb removal in protected wilderness areas.

The bill allows local fire agencies to take the lead in fire fighting, Haueter said. Los Angeles County Fire could be named the lead agency in fighting wildland fires, which gives the department tactical control over how a blaze is battled, he said.

"It's real easy to understand Los Angeles County Fire's incentive to protect homes and property," Haueter said.

Before his bill could pass, McKeon and staff battled to overcome commonly held misconceptions about protected wilderness areas.

In the past, the bills ran into opposition from people who live along boundaries of protected areas who fear that the wilderness designation will preclude the use of heavy equipment such as bulldozers to help protect their homes, Haueter said.

"The lead agency is allowed to call on whatever resources they see fit to fight the fire in wilderness areas," Haueter said. The same is true with the firefighting procedures outlined in this bill, he said.


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