State officials seek wildfire legislation

— After consecutive years of record wildfire damage, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is asking legislators for help controlling future wildfires.

The agency is asking the Legislature for an additional $24,279,000 to equip and train more in-state wildland firefighters and make forests and communities more resistant to the megablazes that have swept Washington.

DNR is responsible for preventing and fighting wildfires on 13 million acres of private, state and tribal-owned forestlands.

“We will not let the Evergreen State become the Wildfire State,” Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark said last Thursday. “We must confront the reality of a longer, more difficult fire season. That’s why I am making an urgent request now to the legislature for more people, equipment and training to fight Washington’s fires.”

The funding package would provide aid to local fire districts, modernize communication equipment, add aviation experts to dispatch helicopters and airplanes and train local, tribal, state and contracted firefighters to work together.

Funding also would be aimed at improving the health of Washington’s forests and strengthening fire prevention programs.

More than 1,500 wildfires burned 1,005,423 acres in Washington this summer. Battling those blazes cost Washington $164 million.

With $27.2 million budgeted by the legislature for wildfire response in 2015, DNR is also asking the legislature for an allotment to pay the $137 million in excess costs. In January, the legislature approved a budget supplement to cover more than $70 million in costs from the then-record 2014 wildfire season.


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