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State Legislature to look into better ways to protect people and property from wildfires

Telegraph Fire
Posted at 4:43 PM, Sep 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-20 21:24:16-04

PHOENIX — Wildfires have burned more than 541,000 acres of Arizona desert and mountain landscape in 2021. It's an area larger than Phoenix, Tucson, and Flagstaff combined.

“I expect to hear from people who have been impacted directly on their personal property and lives at these hearings,” said State Representative David Cook. Cook, of Globe, was chosen to chair a house ad hoc committee that will investigate whether there is a better way to protect people and property from the one-two punch of wildfires and floods.

“We need to assure locals and our state government are involved in the decision-making process and the best decisions will be made at that time.”

Cook suspects that's not happening. Neither does Congressman Tom O'Halleran, who is trying to get help for Flagstaff residents still dealing with the effects of the 2019 Museum Fire.

“I’m asking the forest service what was done there and give me an account and if we have to do more, we’ll put more pressure on that side of it.”

As wildfires consume the west, other states like Utah and Montana are reevaluating their relationship with the US Forest Service. They’re questioning if the federal government's commitment to states should be continued after a wildfire is put out to ensure communities nearby are protected from the aftermath.

“They’re the largest landowner,” Representative Cook said. Cook’s family cabin was destroyed in the Telegraph Fire. “They’re the ones who caused this devastation and destruction to people's personal property and they’re not footing the bill for anything.”

The first hearing will be next week at the state capital. The committee will also go to Flagstaff in October. The plan is to submit a report to the speaker of the house in November, then decide if either state or federal legislation is needed to better serve communities affected by wildfires.