Congresswoman Lois Capps paid a visit to the County’s Emergency Operations Center today to speak about recent work in the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate resulting in the passage of the Federal Land Assistance, Management and Enhancement (FLAME) Act on Thursday, July 12. While praising the cooperation between local, state and federal agencies to successfully manage the Gap Fire-which, according to an 8 a.m. report by the Forest service, is now 75 percent contained-she said more can be done at the federal level to support prevention efforts. “We’ve been remiss at the federal level in dealing with this,” she said. “The budget is skewed-we’ve been robbing Peter to pay Paul. A lot of these fires could have been prevented if the Forest Service had the funding to do the things they’re trained to do in the off season,” she said, noting that more brush clearing and other prevention activities could have been done in the Los Padres National Forest, which is where most of the fire burned.
Capps, flanked by County First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal and officials from the Forest Service and the County, stated that getting information from local officials about what they need is crucial to the process of getting resources where they are needed. “We want to make sure we get the response that is appropriate as soon as possible,” she said. “Nothing is more reassuring than seeing our representatives,” said Carbajal of the very visible presence of Capps and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger during the fire, noting the work of Capps and Senator Barbara Boxer in getting the FLAME Act passed. “We want people to have an awareness of the complexity of a response [to a disaster],” said Capps. “Most people want to know why there weren’t planes out there dropping retardant the minute the fire started.”
Due to the record number of fires in California this year, Capps pushed the need for preparedness and coordination, saying that living here means having to deal with fires on a regular basis. She pointed out that long term issues, such as the fire’s effect upon soil, should be considered as well. “Every time we have a forest fire, we have a watershed issue,” she said of the deforested areas that now have reduced capacity for holding rainwater back, causing the potential for flooding when the weather gets wet. “Soil from these bare spots can wash down with the first rain. We need to ascertain now what dangers exist from that.” Since she is on the Congressional Natural Resources Committee, she pledged her dedication to treating this as a long term issue.