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usda-mastheadWASHINGTON, Aug. 20, 2015 - U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack today made the following statement:

"This year, we are experiencing yet another devastating wildfire season, particularly in the drought-ravaged West. Climate change, drought, fuel buildup, insects and disease are increasing the severity of unprecedented wildfire in America's forests and rangelands, which impacts the safety of people, homes and communities. Development close to forests has also increased the threat to property, with more than 46 million homes in the United States, or about 40 percent of our nation's housing, potentially at risk from wildfire.

USDA works closely with the Department of Interior and Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, along with other partners, to deploy the workforce, equipment, and interagency coordination necessary to respond safely and effectively to increasingly severe wildfire seasons. We are expending in excess of $150 million per week on fire suppression activities, and that will likely grow in the days and weeks ahead. Well over 26,000 firefighters and support personnel from federal, state and local agencies are deployed, along with 28 next generation and legacy air tankers, and additional aviation assets. We are now working with the U.S. Military and foreign partners, such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, to bring in additional resources.

"One of our most critical assets in this fight is the courageous firefighters who work on the front lines. There are more firefighters on the ground today fighting fires than at any time in the nation's history. They work nights, weekends and holidays under difficult circumstances. While we do everything we can to reduce risk and ensure their safety, our firefighting personnel have been particularly hard hit this year. We've now lost seven precious lives over the course of this fire season, including three firefighters who perished just yesterday in Washington, and many more have been injured in the line of duty. We mourn for those lost, offer support to their families and loved ones, and pray for the continued recovery of those injured.

"Secretary Jewell and I not only share common concerns for the safety of our firefighting crews, but also share a common goal of restoring resilient forests and protecting against future fire outbreaks. Over the next few weeks, we anticipate the fire season will continue to intensify, putting lives and property at risk. As the fire season endures, we will continue to employ every available resource to protect our nation's forests, our families and our communities."

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