President: 'Painful' wildfire deaths in Arizona raise 'broader questions'

President Obama on Monday said the deaths of 19 firefighters battling an Arizona blaze shows the need to reassess wildfire management policy.

“I think we are going to have to ask ourselves a set of broader questions about how we are handling increasingly deadly and difficult firefights,” Obama said Monday at a press conference in Tanzania.

“Wildfires have been continually escalating at higher and higher cost, and putting more and more pressure not only on the federal fire services but also on state and local fire services, and we are going to have to think about what more we can do on that front,” Obama said.

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“But for now, I think what we are most concerned about are how painful these losses are,” added Obama, who is on an eight-day, multi-nation tour through Africa.

The president, who offered condolences and called the firefighters heroes earlier Monday, said in Tanzania that “we are heartbroken about what happened.”

He said the administration is ready to help support the investigation into the deaths of the crew of elite firefighters, who were battling a blaze about 80 miles northwest of Phoenix.


Obama did not mention climate change in his remarks, but the White House has pointed to dangerous and costly wildfires as it touts plans to battle global warming and harden communities against extreme weather.

Wildfires burned 9.3 million acres in the U.S. in 2012, the third-highest total measured in records that date back to 1960, according to the Obama administration.

The climate plan the White House unveiled last week noted that wildfires are worsened by heat and drought that are linked to climate change.

“Federal agencies will expand and prioritize forest and rangeland restoration efforts in order to make natural areas and communities less vulnerable to catastrophic fire,” the plan states.

On June 28 a bipartisan quartet of senators wrote to the administration to criticize the budgeting formula for wildfire suppression efforts.