By Marcy Stamper
The Okanogan County commissioners are not the only ones looking to manage firefighting at the local level — several bills currently under consideration by state lawmakers would shift some responsibility for firefighting into local hands.
One bill would require the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to call up private contractors closest to a fire first. Another would allow individuals — without penalty — to enter state land to cut fire lines or remove timber to prevent a fire from threatening their private property. Other proposed legislation connected with wildfires and firefighting would provide tools for emergency planning and help Okanogan County with economic recovery.
Most of the bills had a hearing in House committees last week or will get a hearing this week, but so far only one — providing a checklist to help schools cope with a natural disaster — has been voted out of committee for consideration by the full House.
Local fire protection
House Bill (HB) 1508 would allow a county or counties to create a local forest fire protection division to prevent and respond to forest fires. The local division would have independent decision-making authority.
The bill has been scheduled for a committee hearing on Thursday (Feb. 5).
Using local contractors
Three bills would make it easier to use local firefighting resources.
HB 1509 would require DNR to give first priority to contractors geographically close to the fire-suppression activities. Local contractors would have priority unless there was a “significant price disparity,” although even in that instance, DNR would have to take into account both contractors’ fees and additional costs of fire suppression resulting from any delay in deployment.
HB 1677 would require county commissioners to maintain a list of qualified and available private contract firefighters. It would require DNR to use these local resources “whenever the department is overburdened by its firefighting responsibilities and is unable to respond to suppress a fire in a timely manner.”
HB 1368 would allow two or more adjacent fire protection jurisdictions to form a regional fire protection authority if approved by a simple majority of voters. The new authority would be permitted to collect taxes for fire protection.
HB 1509 and 1677 have both been scheduled for a committee hearing on Thursday. HB 1368 is scheduled for an executive session in committee the same day.
Fires on state land
HB 1237 would permit landowners to enter land managed by DNR or the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to stop or slow the spread of a fire onto that individual’s property. It would also authorize the cutting or removal of timber as part of fire suppression.
The bill amends existing law to allow these actions regardless of the origin of the fire. The fire would have to present an imminent threat and the property owner would have to notify the appropriate state agency. It would prohibit courts from imposing any civil liability on the individuals for taking such actions.
The bill has been scheduled for a committee hearing on Thursday.
HB 1125 would provide $500,000 to the Carlton Complex Fire Long Term Recovery Group to help with economic recovery in Okanogan and Chelan counties. The money would come from the state’s existing economic development strategic reserve account, and would have to be distributed by Aug. 1. (See related story on page A3.)
HB 1382 governs firefighter training and requires the state fire training academy to offer training for any firefighter in the state. The goal is to increase the number and diversity of volunteer firefighters.
The bill was scheduled for a committee hearing on Tuesday (Feb. 3).
Mobilization for fires and other emergencies
HB 1389 would allow the state’s mobilization system to be used in all emergencies, including wildland fires, floods and disease outbreaks.
The bill has been sent to the Appropriations Committee.
Help for schools
HB 1003 would give school districts a checklist for financial support and other information in an emergency or disaster. The proposed legislation was introduced in part to address the situation that confronted the Pateros School District, where the only school suffered more than $2 million in damage from the Carlton Complex Fire, delaying the start of the school year.
The bill went to the rules committee on Thursday (Jan. 29), so it could come before the full House.