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DeFazio Releases GAO Report Findings on US Forest Service’s Firefighting Response to 2017 Chetco Bar Fire

Jun 1, 2020
Press Release

Rep. Peter DeFazio today released the findings of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report he requested on the U.S. Forest Service’s (USFS) firefighting response to the 2017 Chetco Bar Fire.

“As we approach another potentially severe wildfire season, along with the added challenge of the coronavirus pandemic, it is imperative that we take lessons learned from past disasters and apply that knowledge to prevention efforts today, in order to keep Oregonians safe,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio.

The Chetco Bar Fire began in the summer of 2017 in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest and burned more than 190,000 acres over nearly 4 months. Per DeFazio’s request, GAO experts traveled to Oregon to interview regional USFS and other local firefighting agencies, as well as residents and business owners to determine details on the ground from those most affected by the fire.

“The GAO report’s findings highlight the USFS’s desperate need for more resources—not only to suppress wildfires when they occur, but to perform routine fuel reduction efforts that lower the risk of fires before they start,” continued DeFazio. “This is the first season where the USFS does not have to resort to “fire borrowing”, so it is better able to focus more on fire prevention and forest management. That being said, we must invest more. I have consistently advocated for more personnel and greater investments in fire suppression assets, especially aerial suppression resources, as well as a return to the practice of land management agencies retaining their own aerial fleets for firefighting as they did years ago. I will continue my fight for increased funding and support for the USFS to ensure they have the tools to aggressively fight wildfires.”

The report found that initial firefighting efforts to contain the fire when it first started were unsuccessful due to the “Chetco Winds” effect and the remote terrain where the blaze initiated.

In addition, the GAO determined that the USFS’s lack of resources, both regionally and nationally, contributed to the size and spread of the fire.

Earlier this week, DeFazio sent a letter to USFS Chief Vicki Christiansen asking for an update on the agency’s preparedness for the 2020 wildfire season amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

To view the full report, click here.