The late summer fire season isn’t letting up as it spreads over California state lines and into Nevada.
Fires of all sizes are popping up around Northern Nevada —among them the South Sugarloaf Fire, the Slide Fire and the North Fire. The Sugarloaf Fire caught national attention after failing to receive federal aid.
According to InciWeb, the South Sugarloaf Fire has burned nearly 250,000 acres and only stands 97 percent contained. The South Sugarloaf fire originated in Elko County, according to Nevada Fire Info. It was only discovered on Friday Aug. 17, but has still made notable damage. In comparison, the largest fire in Nevada to date, the Martin Fire, had burned over 435,000 acres by early August, making the South Sugarloaf Fire over half as large.
The South Sugarloaf became a threat to homes in Mountain City and other remote towns according to the Reno Gazette Journal. Unfortunately, this fire was not deemed dangerous enough by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to receive aid.
According to FEMA’s official website, the agency’s mission is “helping people before, during and after disasters”. However, FEMA did not do so when the state of Nevada asked for a Fire Management Assistance Grant. According to FEMA, the fire “did not threaten such destruction as would constitute a major disaster.”
FEMA would have been able to assist suppression of the fire, as well as the covering of the price for tools for victims such as portable toilets and bulldozers, according to Nevada State Forester Kacey KC.
The rejection from FEMA left Nevada congresspeople confused. A letter from Senator Dean Heller to FEMA Administrator Brook Long asked for reconsideration in the treatment of fires in the Great Basin.
“I write to you to today in the midst of one of the worst fire seasons on record to share my concerns with the eligibility criteria for a wildfire to qualify for assistance under the Federal Emergency Management Administration’s (FEMA’s) Fire Management Assistance Grant (FMAG) program,” Heller wrote. “While I am a strong supporter of FMAG and its benefit to my state, it seems clear that some of the criteria used to determine eligibility for the FMAG program may put my state’s rurual communities at a disadvantage. In order to qualify for FMAG, your agency requires a threat to lives and property, including threats to critical infrastructure and critical watershed areas. I respectfully ask that your agency take into consideration the severe consequences of wildfire on our public lands, including the loss of lands for grazing, energy development, and any other factor that would have an economic impact on Nevadans.”
In addition to Heller’s letter to FEMA, Catherine Cortez Masto took to Twitter to voice her concerns.
“It’s unacceptable that (FEMA) has refused to grant additional assistance to help the state fight the Sugarloaf Fire with great urgency,” she tweeted. “Wildlife habitat and the livelihood of Nevada’s ranchers are at stake.”
Congressman Mark Amodei questioned in a Washoe County Commission meeting why receiving aid from FEMA was so difficult.
“We’d like the FEMA folks to come in and tell us why it is so hard … to get their attention on something,” Amodei said. “The guy in Oakland has an invitation to please come to Northern Nevada and see what you’re saying no to.”
Olivia Ali can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @OliviaNAli.