It may still be wet and muddy out there, and snow may even be on the ground in some places, but it’s also the time of year when wildland firefighters start to gear up for hot, dry weather and wildfires.
Washington and Oregon saw hundreds of millions of dollars in damage from wildfires last year. Still, Washington’s wildfire season wasn’t as bad as it could have been.
“Last year, we kept 96 percent of our fires below 10 acres,” Washington Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz said.
Firefighters anticipated where things might get bad, so they were strategic about how to plan for that, Franz said.
“We were able to leverage air assets early and get them out quickly on the ground. We also pre-positioned equipment based on what we knew was significant forest health crisis in areas of our state," she said.
Now Franz is calling for more up-front wildfire management funding.
“The reality is the more we have money up front to be able to train our people on the ground and get equipment, we can keep those fires small rather than have to pay the significant millions of dollars we pay for fire damage afterwards,” she said.
This year, the state Legislature approved a supplemental budget request of $1.7 million for fire suppression for the upcoming season. That's money that will be used early on to prepare for the start of wildfires. Fire managers are also waiting to see how much, if any, federal money might come their way.
Franz was in Yakima Tuesday to meet with hundreds of wildland firefighters from Oregon, Washington and Alaska. They’re all in town for an annual meeting that includes workshops on training, health and safety and they’ll get a briefing on the 2018 wildfire season forecast.