DNR head says new legislation will help battle more destructive wildfire seasons

A wildfire near Auburn is now 75 percent contained, and the level two evacuation has been lifted around the Green Valley Fire. So far, it has burned around 20 acres and firefighters believe it was sparked by someone not controlling a backyard burn.

Fire officials said they've been able to keep the fire in check thanks to lower temperatures and calm winds this week. 

Many say the 2021 wildfire season has begun early, including Washington state’s Department of Natural Resources. The agency said it has already responded to an unprecedented 91 wildfires in a single week across our state.

Lawmakers are also poised to pass legislation that could have a significant impact on how our state fights fire and ensures property does not burn to the ground.

The legislation has all but passed completely out of both chambers and could be on its way to Governor Jay Inslee’s desk. The bill pays for additional air resources, more firefighters and increased efforts to manage state forested lands.

RELATED: Senate passes bill to prevent and fight wildfires in Washington state

But, this year’s season will operate as it did in 2020, via a skeleton crew. 

"Most people’s cameras are full of family pictures," said homeowner Teresa Tobin, "Mine are all the colors of Mount Rainier."

Tobin's view of Mount Rainier is breathtaking. Her family’s home overlooks the Green River where firefighters have been battling a brushfire in steep terrain for days.

"I have never seen this," said Tobins, adding most of her neighbors could not recall another wildfire occurring so early in the season. Neighbors also said there’s never been a fire this early.

A firetruck has been staged near Tobin's home. She said in the past week or so she's had a nightmare of wondering when she might be forced to evacuate to flee danger.

"We’re nervous," she said.   

RELATED: DNR implements new temporary burn ban restrictions in several Washington regions as fire dangers increase

"We are predicting we are going to have another potentially devastating fire season like we did last year," said Hilary Franz, DNR’s commissioner.

The agency does have access to more air resources than it did last year, but Franz said it doesn’t have the time to train newbies to fight on the front line.

 "We know we had skeleton crews," she said.

The legislation pays for more firefighters, new air resources, and allows the thinning out dead and flammable duff from state forests. It also helps homeowners protect their properties.

The price tag is high around $125 million. But this year firefighters must continue to work mostly under conditions similar to recent years. Franz said this means for homeowners and everyone else they have to be extra careful to keep sparks from erupting into huge wildfires.

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