Wildfire seasons are becoming wildfire years – but Washington legislators voted last week to give the Washingon State Department of Natural Resources more tools to prevent wildfire and deal with its effects.
On Monday, March 6, the Washington state House of Representatives voted 95 to 0 to approve House Bill 1578 or “Cascading Impacts of Wildfire” legislation. The bill, which also has bipartisan support in the state Senate, will focus particularly on communities that face unique risks during and after wildfire events.
Proposed by Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, the bill was motivated by the debilitating smoke from the 2022 Bolt Creek Fire, which led to Seattle and other parts of Washington having the worst air quality in the world. The bill details the agency’s plan to prepare communities for wildfire smoke risks and impacts, expand community resilience efforts statewide, and manage post-wildfire risks including landslides and debris flows.
“It doesn’t matter where you live, no one is immune from the impacts of wildfire -- we learned that firsthand last year with the Bolt Creek Fire. The good news is each of us can take action to make our own homes and our neighbors’ safer and more resilient to wildfire,” said Commissioner Franz, who leads the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). “This legislation will expand funding for community resilience programs -- and that will help us all meet future wildfires on a better footing.”
House Bill 1578 was sponsored in the state House of Representatives by Reps. Larry Springer (D-Kirkland) and Joel Kretz (R-Wauconda). With that funding, DNR will expand its Wildfire Ready Neighbors program – already popular in Eastern Washington – to Western Washington, making three pilot programs in Pierce, Thurston and Mason counties permanent and adding five additional communities.
Since DNR’s Wildfire Ready Neighbors program launched in 2021, more than 4,000 Eastern Washington residents have signed up to get a personalized Wildfire Ready Plan and committed to take more than 20,000 actions to better prepare their homes and communities for wildfire.
House Bill 1578 also requires DNR to work with various state and local-level agencies and organizations to assess and plan for health impacts from smoke, evacuation strategies, and post-fire landslide and debris flow prevention. Specifically, provisions in the bill direct DNR to work with the state Department of Ecology, local clean air agencies and the U.S. Forest Service to deploy temporary air monitors to assess smoke during both prescribed fires and wildfires, along with a focus on outreach to areas with vulnerable populations, including outdoor workers and the elderly, and working with local groups to identify smoke-respite areas.