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Honeyford pushes through bill to protect citizens, property from wildfires in 'no man's land'

OLYMPIA - A measure sponsored by Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, that would help protect human lives and property from wildfires was unanimously approved by the Senate this past Monday.

Engrossed Senate Bill 6462 is in response to 2009's Dry Creek fire that destroyed the landmark Silver Dollar Café, on "no man's land" at the junction of State Route 241 and State Route 24 north of Sunnyside. Legislators representing the portion of Yakima County damaged by the Dry Creek Complex fire held a public meeting in late August to discuss the response to the blaze and how to better handle wildfires in 'no man's land.'

"Currently, firefighters are not required to engage in fire suppression efforts if the fire occurs outside the boundaries of their fire protection district," Honeyford explained. "When the Silver Dollar Cafe burned down, there were firefighters present on the scene, but none of them stepped in to fight the flames, because it was outside of their district.

"There are many areas in this state that lack the safeguard of belonging to a fire protection district. The people in those areas need our help; this bill addresses that vital need."

Referred to as the 'Good Samaritan' bill, ESB 6462 would essentially say anyone with the equipment and manpower to help should do so. The bill would impose a duty on a firefighter present at the scene of any wildfire to step in if the fire poses a danger to human life or structures, unless the firefighter does not have the resources at the scene to fight the fire in a safe and reasonable manner.

Under the bill, state and municipal firefighters, both paid and volunteer, would be immune from civil liability when fighting a fire outside their jurisdiction and when providing emergency care, rescue, assistance or recovery services at the scene of an emergency. This immunity would not cover acts of gross negligence or "willful or wanton misconduct."

The bill now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.

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