Washington state bills aim to improve wildfire preparation

5 February 2023

Published by: https://keprtv.com

USA – Washington state has seen intense wildfires over the past few years, but last year Seattle was home to the world’s worst air quality because of wildfires from not only the Evergreen State but also surrounding states.

Several bills have been introduced to bring in funding to help battle wildfires. Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz proposed “Cascading Impacts of Wildfire” legislation — House Bill 1578; Senate Bill 5611. The bill details the agency’s plan to prepare communities for wildfire smoke risks and impacts, expand community resilience efforts statewide and manage post-wildfire risks including landslides and debris flows.

Other bills include House Bill 1498, which touches on concerning aviation assurance funding in response to wildland fires. A public hearing took place Friday when Rep. Mary Dye spoke about the need for funding for more aircraft help during wildfires, which would include the use of planes and helicopters more often.

“This tool is for our local fire districts that will assure that they have the financial ability to deploy aircraft as deemed necessary,” said Dye.

The Bolt Creek Fire burned more than 14,000 acres last year. Its intensity was a big contributor to making Seattle’s air quality the worst in the world. Battalion Chief Seth Merritt with Eastside Fire & Rescue said they’re already starting to gear up for the season ahead.

“We’ve seen an uptick and longer duration, more intense. We’ve had significant drying in the fuels and that’s affected us,” said Merritt.

The bill states the use of “aviation assets by trained air operations commands has proven to be a valuable tool to prevent many wildland fires from requiring the response of state mobilization and prevent the deployment of state and federal fire agencies and their mobilization partner agencies.”

Some landowners shared their concerns in the most recent house committee hearing, for them, timing is crucial.

“If air support was deployed for initial attack in some areas… It would be a game changer and I would suspect it would reduce the number of fires that go into state mobilization,” said Molly Linville.

Eastside Fire & Rescue stressed the importance of having enough funding to have both people on the ground and aircraft to help put out the fires.

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