The issue of fire protection of private land between fire districts in eastern Washington continues to smolder following last summer’s Dry Creek fire. Several state lawmakers are threatening to introduce legislation that would require firefighters to fight fires regardless of whether it’s in their district or not, calling it a “duty to serve” law.
Here is an excerpt from an editorial in the Yakima-Herald:
While we understand the anger of those who felt firefighters didn’t provide enough assistance during the Dry Creek fire, we also realize the enormity of what firefighters have to deal with during a wildland fire. Communication among fire crews is difficult in these far-flung rural areas, with firefighters forced to work in deep ravines where cell phones and radios prove ineffective.
The unpredictability of these fires also makes fighting them extremely hazardous and frustrating. The [Silver Dollar cafe which burned in the fire] fell victim to a fire’s fickle nature. Though the cafe was used briefly as a staging area, firefighters had no proper equipment available when fire erupted suddenly and gutted the restaurant.
Liability and costs are legitimate concerns for rural fire districts. Providing firefighting services to those who wish to live in no man’s land is something lawmakers may seek to require, but the state also must offer adequate compensation for this “duty to serve.”
Residents can — and should — seek to be included in nearby fire districts or set up their own district.
Living in secluded rural areas has its benefits, and its costs. Wildland fires are a fact of life in these scrub-brush regions. It’s also equally certain that something more needs to be done. The status quo isn’t working for anyone.
What we don’t want is a repeat of Dry Creek.