OLYMPIA (VIDEO) — State lawmakers who are key in support of funding for the Department of Natural Resources’ wildfire fighting crews joined state Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz on Tuesday in learning how to deploy wildfire shelters.
Reps. Beth Doglio, an Olympia Democrat, Drew MacEwen, a Mason County Republican, and state Sen. Christine Rolfs, a Bainbridge Island Democrat, participated in the demonstration near the capitol rotunda.
Knowing how to deploy the shelters allows those who are successful at it to safely travel to state fire lines, including members of the media.
Fire shelter deployment, while rare, happens in the event that a wildfire threatens firefighters and others on the ground.
Chuck Turley, wildfire division manager at DNR, said the shelters used Tuesday were training models for the real thing, which is thicker and reflective silver.
“Any of our firefighters that have any sort of operational qualifications that might take them to the fire line, this is a part of the annual training that they are required to do,” Turley said.
Franz says her firefighters know there is a serious risk in their jobs.
“I have firefighters that have been doing this work for 30-plus years for our agency and one of the things they were saying in May was ‘Hilary, the conditions we’re seeing, this is the kind of conditions where firefighters can lose their lives, because it was so hot, because it was so dry,” she said. “We all remember the fatalities of 2015 with the Twisp fire. Washington state is not a stranger to losing our firefighters’ lives.”
Franz says July rains have helped reduced the risk of wild fires after a fiery spring, but a hotter, drier August could be a different story.
Franz praised the work of firefighters now battling Grant County’s “Powerline Fire” that has burned 7,800 acres and is about 50 percent contained.
“We started this year with some really significant concerns,” she said. “We actually had the highest risk on the nation for wild fire.”
Doglio says she believes climate change is behind the increase in Washington wildfires.
“We have got to take climate change seriously,” Doglio said. “And we have got to reduce emissions as deeply and as quickly as we possibly can.”
MacEwen complimented Franz for working with state lawmakers in a bipartisan fashion.
“I do want to thank you, Hilary,” MacEwen said. “She has been the most active commissioner that I’ve seen with our (Republican) caucus and working both sides of the aisle to find out what works, what doesn’t work.”