New wildfire law takes effect this month

New wildfire law takes effect this month

03 July 2015

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USA– OR–When it charred more than 250,000 acres last summer, the Carlton Complex wildfire became the largest in state history. And this summer, it’s prompting a change to state law.

On July 24, House Bill 2093 takes effect in Washington.

The state received a lot of criticism over its response to the Carlton Complex fire, because some people felt the Department of Natural Resources’ response was far too slow.

House Bill 2093 will require the Department of Natural Resources to appoint a wildland fire liaison that would communicate any and all concerns from the county level to the station.

And even more important for people who felt they were ordered to stand back and do nothing as their homes burned last year in Okanogan County, the new law also gives individual citizens permission to enter privately or publicly owned land to try to extinguish a growing fire.

The bill says no civil or criminal liability can be imposed by any court on the owner of that land or the person who enters the property in an attempt to fight a wildfire.

“I think it’s a good step in the right direction,” said Jim Hinton, who is a Skagit County farmer who has also faced his share of wildfires over the years.

In fact, the state sometimes uses Hinton’s tanker trucks to help battled the flames.

“They can call them into service at any time, we can be loaded and gone in a half an hour,” said Jim Hinton.

But Hinton has long felt that the Department of Natural Resources doesn’t utilize those local people and supplies he views as invaluable, nearly as much as it should.

“They’re not getting enough equipment on the fire with people that know what they’re doing,” he said.

It’s one of the biggest complaints DNR heard from landowners during the Carlton Complex fire and an issue House Bill 2093 seeks to address by creating more local community involvement during firefights.

“I think the legislators worked really hard at it,” said Hinton. “But I think there needs to be more done. You can’t beat that local knowledge.”

It seems landowners, firefighters, and lawmakers will all be paying close attention during what is shaping up to be a very busy wildfire season, to see whether the changes put in place by House Bill 2093 will make a difference.

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