By Marcy Stamper
Okanogan County Commissioner Ray Campbell delivered a harsh assessment of actions and decisions that allowed the Carlton Complex Fire to get out of control, and the mayors of Twisp and Pateros asked for money to rebuild infrastructure and support mixed-income housing at a state Senate committee hearing on Thursday (Nov. 20).
Campbell, Twisp Mayor Soo Ing-Moody and Pateros Mayor George Brady spoke to the Senate Natural Resources & Parks Committee in a hearing about the state’s most severe recent natural disasters, the Carlton Complex Fire and the Oso mudslide.
The mayors pointed to ongoing needs for recovery and preparedness for future events. Among the biggest needs is a reliable communications system and priority status for funding for economic development, transportation and water systems, said Ing-Moody. “We are still dealing with the impact [of the fire] today. So the event, for us, is not over.”
Brady underscored the severe blow to Pateros, where 40 of 220 homes burned in town and 157 overall in the Pateros School District. Brady asked for state assistance to repair the town’s water system and for help creating new affordable housing.
Campbell had stern words for the committee when he questioned changes in the state’s approach to firefighting. Recalling fires in the 1960s under similar weather conditions, Campbell said, “Those fires were attacked immediately and aggressively. And, yes, they were local resources, farmers that were on call — they dropped what they were doing, they had their tools in the back of their rigs, and away they went.”
Campbell predicted a return of local efforts to combat fires because people are now “scared of the fact that we had DNR [Department of Natural Resources] firefighters out there that actually ran away from helping them …”
Before the local officials spoke, Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark and the DNR’s Northeast Region Manager provided an overview of the fire season, describing an unusually dry spring and hot temperatures that had firefighting resources spread thin throughout the Northwest by early July.
The senators asked about the state’s liability if people without adequate training or qualifications volunteered to help fight fire and about ways of funding DNR’s fire and forest health programs and the effect on taxes. One senator asked whether the state’s system for dividing firefighting responsibility among state and local resources is antiquated and dysfunctional and should be reviewed.