Washington state DNR requests funds for 100 additional firefighters

Wildfires in Washington, 2020
Map showing locations of wildfires in Washington that were reported to the National Interagency Fire Center in 2020.

Legislation being introduced in the state of Washington requests additional funding to beef up their fire suppression capability on the ground and in the air.

The number of acres burned in wildfires last year in the state, 812,000, was more than four times the average in the 2000s. In eastern Washington, 80 percent of the buildings were destroyed by the Babb-Malden Fire in September, 2020. The number of acres blackened in  Oregon last year, just across the border, was the second highest ever recorded.

Babb-Malden Fire
Babb-Malden Fire in eastern Washington, September, 2020. Whitman County Sheriff photo.

The bill introduced earlier this week in Washington, HB 1168, would appropriate $125 million for the Department of Natural Resources to create for the first time a dedicated fund to suppress and mitigate wildfires over the next two-year budget period.

A similar bill was introduced last year but failed to pass, possibly because it also stipulated that a portion of the funds would be raised by establishing a surtax on home insurance premiums. This latest version leaves it up to the legislators to come up with a source for the money.

For two of the last three years, Washington had the worst air quality in the world due to smoke from wildfires.

The requested funds can be sorted into four categories:

Wildfire Response — $75.2 million

The bill would create positions for 100 more firefighters, adding three 20-person hand crews, 20 dozer operators, and two 10-person “post-release” crews comprised of formerly incarcerated persons who served on state fire response crews.

The bill would also allow the purchase of two intelligence gathering fixed wing aircraft to be used on fires. Their ten very old UH-1H Huey helicopters would receive upgrades of some systems and night-flying capabilities. Washington does not own any air tankers, but in 2020 they had approximately six privately owned single engine air tankers (SEATS) on contract.

Forest Restoration — $31.4 million

This would fully fund and accelerate the DNR’s 20-Year Forest Health Strategic Plan, which calls for restoring natural wildfire resistance to 1.25 million acres of forest.

Workforce Development — $5.9 million

Provide career pathways for foresters, firefighters and mill workers

Community Resilience — $12.6 million

Make investments at the home, neighborhood, and community levels to reduce wildfire risk and protect communities. Including investments in defensive strategies at the community level such as fuel breaks, prescribed fire, and creating defensible green space, plus  direct assistance to home owners to secure their property and neighborhood with programs like FireWise.

In the video below Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz and Rep. Larry Springer (D-Kirkland) joined experts and advocacy leaders from across the state to unveil the just-introduced bill. The discussion about fire begins at 6:00.

map fires Washington
Map showing heat detected by satellites on wildfires in Washington at 4:18 p.m. PDT September 8, 2020.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

3 thoughts on “Washington state DNR requests funds for 100 additional firefighters”

  1. WA DNR saw a similar increase in fire resources following the 2014 and 2015 fire seasons.
    2 problems – first, like many physical outdoor jobs there are fewer and fewer young people wanting to do this kind of work. Also DNR fire seasons are much longer than 3 months in the summer, which precludes the hiring of a lot of students.
    Most importantly though, where does WA DNR find the experienced and qualified leadership and overhead to staff these new positions. Because of the previously mentioned hiring issues and the post 2014/15 build up many engine bosses are 2nd and 3rd year firefighters.

  2. I’m not convinced “more firefighters” are needed in lieu of a larger air tanker force, dispersed in the highest risk locations. The appropriate balance is the key but we know that a quick reactionary force of SEATS can “keep ’em small” while troops arrive.

  3. Thank you for this article. Many of us in Oregon are concerned regarding the increasing potential of wildfires due to the continuing addition of more and more transmission lines which will significantly increase the risk of wildfires. Relying upon existing resources while increasing the likelihood that the numbers of wildfires will continue to increase does not make sense.


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