USA – OLYMPIA, WA — It seems like every year Washington’s wildfire season gets worse. Now, state lawmakers have come together to support a new, bipartisan proposal to better fund the Evergreen State’s wildfire fighting efforts.
Supporters describe House Bill 1161 as a “multi-pronged approach” to Washington’s wildfire problem, setting aside $125 million every biennium to pay for firefighter training equipment, and forest restoration and management. The goal: prevent fires where we can, but respond appropriately when we cannot.
“We average about $153 million per year in firefighting costs that will continue to go up if we do nothing,” said bill sponsor Rep. Joel Kretz (R-Wauconda). “However, there will be a much larger cost to our rural communities if we do nothing. While some regions have suffered through the majority of our major fires, most every city and town in our state has experienced the harmful effects of bad air quality as a result of catastrophic wildfire smoke. This bill is a solution that will help all Washingtonians.”
Other members of the House agree, and unanimously voted to pass the bill forward and along to the Senate for consideration.
As the bill notes, in the 90s, wildfires only burned an average of 86,000 acres each year. They burned more than one million acres of Washington land in 2015. Firefighters with the Department of Natural Resources were called out to 1,850+ wildfires in 2020.
To address the growing problem, the bill sets aside the $125 million to be given to state agencies, local governments, tribes and fire districts to support a variety of fire preparedness activities like investing in new firefighting equipment and technology, forest monitoring and management.
Notably, despite the deep partisan divide in Washington and in America at large, the Republican-sponsored bill was co-sponsored by a Democrat, Rep. Larry Springer, (D-Kirkland). Following the bill’s approval, Kretz took a moment to thank colleagues for setting aside political differences to work on his bill.
“This may be the most important, impactful piece of legislation I’ve worked on in my entire legislative career,” said Kretz. “The fact is, it couldn’t have been done without assistance from my colleagues on the other side of the aisle. This has been a collaborative process from the beginning. In the end, homes, land, and lives will be saved as a result of this legislation.”