Fire districts in western Washington train for another 'tough, difficult' wildfire season

More and more disastrous wildfires have been sparking up in western Washington in the last several seasons. 

Fire districts across the Puget Sound are preparing to battle the fires in the dry, hot temperatures. Monday started a week-long Wildland Urban Interface training session, hosted by Graham Fire & Rescue. 

Leaders from 10 different fire agencies on the west side of the Cascades participated in the training. International Association of Fire Fighters developed and taught the course. Many local firefighters in western Washington are trained and skilled in structural fires, but don’t have enough experience fighting wildfires. The lessons give them a chance to practice in the field—learning response and command tactics to help prepare for the hot and dry season.

"This is just an example that we’re bringing new training and partnerships with the local fire districts so they can really train their firefighters who are trained in structural fire fighting to also be able to do it in the wild urban interface that we have," said Hilary Franz, Washington Commissioner of Public Lands.

Franz said there were 224 wildfires reported in April 2021, mostly due to drought conditions. This April, she said there were only 46 wildfires reported. Though this spring has been very wet and cold, Franz said it’s no indication it could be a mild fire season.

"We’re urging people to not think this is an eastern Washington issue, though. It is an entire Washington issue. We’re seeing now 35% of our fires west of the cascades, 65% east side. So, we need people to be ready since it’s likely we’re going to see another difficult, significant, tough fire season year," said Franz.

Western WA had among worst air quality in U.S. due to wildfire season, data shows

Data from the American Lung Association shows that Seattle, Tacoma, Yakima and Bellingham had among the worst air quality in the U.S. due to last year’s wildfire season.

Local, state and federal government leaders helped bring the training opportunity to western Washington. Along with participating in the hands-on experience, firefighters have also been advocating for more equipment and training to fight wildfires efficiently.

"We need better funding. We need funding so that we can do more of this, that we can find the equipment and apparatus needs to respond to this hazard," said Oscar Espinosa, chief of Graham Fire & Rescue. 

"I’m working on firefighter grants in order to do this kind of training. And of course doing town halls with my colleagues with firefighters to teach people who are homeowners how to keep their homes safe," said Kim Schrier, U.S. Representative for Washington’s 8th congressional district.

Last year, the state approved $500 million over four biennium budgets to boost wildfire response. Franz said part of that money will pay for more aviation support to help to put out flames.

The Commissioner of Public Lands said two million homes in Washington are at risk of wildfire danger due to their location within the wildland-urban interface. Franz is urging people in those areas to be proactive by clearing downed trees, brush and debris off their property and at least six to 10 feet away from their home.

"Be able to go out and make sure your lawn is green, make sure you don’t have trees leaning up against your house, clean out your gutters, create that defensible space because it will help your protect your home and your family and it will also go a long way to protecting our firefighters," said Franz.

Washington State Department of Natural Resources has more information available online about wildfire awareness, preparedness and how to report a fire.

As of Monday, May 9, more than 600 Pacific Northwest firefighters were dispatched to help fight wildfires in Arizona and New Mexico, according to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center Twitter.