By Marcy Stamper
A bill intended to expedite firefighting by allowing people to fight a fire on private or public land before it spreads passed unanimously in both the state House and Senate in the past month.
The legislation would also make better use of local resources near a fire and create a network to improve communications between the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the public.
The legislation, House Bill 2093, incorporates aspects of numerous bills proposed this year to address concerns that the state had not taken advantage of all possible means to control a wildfire in a timely fashion, according to a summary prepared by the House.
The legislation would permit individuals to enter private or public land to fight a wildfire that presents an imminent threat. The person would not face liability as long as the person’s actions met certain conditions.
The individual would have to know how to combat the fire safely, and would be permitted to use only reasonable and necessary measures until professional firefighters arrived.
If requested by the landowner, the individual would have to stop fire suppression. The individual would also be required to notify emergency personnel and the property owner “within a reasonable time,” although that period is not specified.
Reasonable measures are restricted to spraying water, clearing flammable materials and creating fire lines. It would not be permissible to set a fire in an effort to stop a fire, to use aircraft, or to direct other people to assist in firefighting.
Another aspect of the bill requires DNR to maintain a list of qualified firefighters and private contractors. This provision is intended to maximize the use of local firefighters with appropriate training and qualifications.
DNR would also have to appoint a liaison between the agency and the general public, as well as a committee to advise the Commissioner of Public Lands about wildland firefighting.
The liaison would cost $1 million for the next biennium. The Senate amended the bill so that it would not become law if not funded.
If the House agrees with the Senate’s funding requirement, the bill will go to the governor’s office for his signature.
The 2015 Legislative session is scheduled to adjourn April 26.