2020 Wildfire Season: Brief Overview of
FEMA Programs and Resources

August 21, 2020
This Insight provides a brief overview of Fire Management Assistance Grant (FMAG) declarations and
federal assistance programs that may be available for wildfires on nonfederal lands.
Wildfire Forecasts and Response Framework
The federal government has the responsibility for wildfires that begin on federal lands; states are
responsible for wildfires that begin on nonfederal lands. For comingled land ownership, response efforts
may be managed jointly across multiple federal, state, tribal, or local agencies. Information on response
efforts (e.g., responding agency, assigned resources, and evacuation warnings, orders, and center
locations) for ongoing incidents is available from the Incident Information System website. In addition,
some states operate incident information websites (e.g., incident information in California).
The federal government supports state wildfire response efforts in several ways, including mutual aid
agreements, which authorize federal and state resource sharing. The agreements allow for a coordinated
interagency response that deploys resources to areas of greatest critical need. Response activities are
coordinated regionally through 10 Geographic Area Coordination Centers (GACCs) and nationally
through the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC).
In addition to response activities, NIFC and the GACCs coordinate national and regional information
regarding wildfire potential through their respective Predictive Services Programs. Daily, weekly,
monthly, and seasonal trend forecasts are produced by combining information about fuel (e.g., brush or
other ignitable vegetation) conditions, fire danger, and fire weather. Fire weather conditions are derived
from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service (NWS).
According to NWS, these conditions involve combinations of periods of sustained winds, relative
humidity values at or below regional thresholds, and temperatures at or above certain levels occurring in
areas that have dry fuels.
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Types of FEMA Assistance
Section 420 of the Stafford Act (P.L. 93-288, as amended; 42 U.S.C. §§5121 et seq.) authorizes the
President to issue an FMAG declaration. The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA’s)
Regional Administrators have been delegated the authority to authorize an FMAG because of the need to
expedite assistance when the threat of a major disaster exists. Once issued, FMAGs allow FEMA to
provide funding for eligible work and costs, including emergency protective measures and firefighting
such as the provision of equipment, supplies, and personnel. FEMA also provides grants
following FMAG declarations to state, local, and tribal governments for the control, management, and
mitigation of “any fire on public or private forest land or grassland that threatens such destruction as
would constitute a major disaster.” FMAGs have been authorized in 2020 for wildfires in nine states,
including the Apple, River, LNU Lightning Fire Complex, SCU Lightning Complex, and CZU Lightning
Complex fires.
The President may authorize an emergency or major disaster declaration, if requested by the governor or
Tribal Chief Executive of the affected state or tribe. An emergency declaration supports state and local
efforts to save lives, protect property, and lessen or avert the incident from becoming a major disaster. A
major disaster declaration allows for a range of federal assistance programs to be made available to state
and local governments, private nonprofit organizations, and individuals through FEMA and other federal
agencies. The forms of assistance authorized may vary by the designated areas, per the declaration (which
can be amended). For example, emergency protective measures and debris removal are also available
pursuant to an emergency declaration.
FEMA provides three major categories of assistance for major disasters:
Public Assistance (PA) provides grants to tribal, state, and local governments, and certain
private nonprofit organizations, for emergency protective measures, debris removal, and
repair or replacement of damaged public and nonprofit structures and contents.
Individual Assistance (IA) provides aid to affected individuals and households, and can
take the form of housing assistance, other needs assistance, crisis counseling, case
management services, legal services, and disaster unemployment assistance.
Hazard Mitigation Assistance (HMA) funds mitigation and resiliency projects and
programs, typically across the entire state. Since the passage of the Disaster Recovery
Reform Act of 2018
(DRRA, Division D of P.L. 115-254), Hazard Mitigation Grant
(HMGP) funding is available for FMAG declarations.
Insurance Coverage
A standard homeowner’s policy covers damage and destruction caused by fire, including wildfires.
However, due to the severity of recent wildfires and the magnitude of insurance losses, insurance
companies have begun to increase premiums or retreat from offering policies in wildland-urban interface
(WUI) areas.
The risk of flooding and mudflows increases significantly after a wildfire due to vegetation loss and soil
exposure. Flooding and mudflows are not covered by most standard homeowners’ or renters’ insurance
policies. Instead, flood insurance would need to be purchased as a separate policy. In addition to flooding,
National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) policies also cover damage due to mudflows.

Congressional Research Service
Federal Funding for Disaster Response and Recovery
FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund (DRF) is the primary source of federal government resources for response
and recovery activities. It is often used as an indicator of the overall availability of federal resources for
response and recovery.
As of July 30, the DRF had $69.2 billion in unobligated budget authority available for the costs of major
disasters and $4.7 billion for the broad purposes of the Stafford Act, including FMAGs and work pursuant
to emergency declarations. Even with the Administration’s plans to fund COVID-19-related
unemployment assistance from the DRF, these numbers represent a relatively high availability of FEMA
resources to deal with wildfires and disasters. This is a result of annual and supplemental appropriations
provided from FY2017 through FY2020, including a $45 billion supplemental appropriation for the DRF
in the CARES Act. Additional resources may result from the FY2021 appropriations process.
Funding for responding to wildfires on federal lands is provided through appropriations to the U.S. Forest
Service and Department of the Interior.
Information Resources
The following products provide additional information on wildfires and federal emergency management
 CRS Report R40884, Wildfires: CRS Experts
 CRS Report R41981, Congressional Primer on Responding to and Recovering from
Major Disasters and Emergencies
 CRS Report R43738, Fire Management Assistance Grants: Frequently Asked Questions
 CRS In Focus IF10244, Wildfire Statistics
 CRS In Focus IF10732, Federal Assistance for Wildfire Response and Recovery

Congressional Research Service
Author Information

Diane P. Horn, Coordinator
Eva Lipiec
Analyst in Flood Insurance and Emergency Management Analyst in Natural Resources Policy

Katie Hoover
William L. Painter
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy
Specialist in Homeland Security and Appropriations

Erica A. Lee
Elizabeth M. Webster
Analyst in Emergency Management and Disaster
Analyst in Emergency Management and Disaster

Bruce R. Lindsay

Analyst in American National Government

This document was prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). CRS serves as nonpartisan shared staff
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CRS Reports, as a work of the United States Government, are not subject to copyright protection in the United
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