Washington armed with funding, federal support to combat worsening wildfires

Millions of dollars of new funding is getting put to work to prepare for fire season here in Washington. While state leaders say this money will make a significant difference in fighting fires, they stress that this is just a start.

The data tells us that fires are burning more land in our state – climbing from 293,000 acres in 2016 to more than 812,000 acres in 2020.

FOX 13 News asked Hilary Franz, state commissioner of public lands, if she thinks this new funding goes far enough in our efforts to combat fires. She says there is reason to be cautiously optimistic.

"I definitely think this was a long way in the right direction, for too long, we’ve underfunded wildfire resources," said Franz.

The state Department of Natural Resources says Washington is better positioned to fight fires this summer. Our state has over 1.25 million acres of forest in eastern Washington that are dead and dying. 30% of those acres have been treated so far – meaning some vegetation gets trimmed and cleared to prevent fires.

Money from House Bill 1168 has helped fund these efforts. That bill passed unanimously in the Senate last year.

"Unfortunately, there’s too much fuel in these forests. Too much dead, dying disease trees that are leading to these catastrophic fires. This will help make progress in that way," said Franz.

Franz pushed hard for House Bill 1168. She says money from that bill is also going into helping vulnerable communities become "fire resilient." That looks like educating people who live in fire-prone areas on protecting their homes from wildfires, including learning how to trim trees and bushes on their property.

This work is important heading into this summer.

"We believe we can take action to help every single homeowner, neighborhood and community become more resilient," she said. Franz says more than half of our forests in Washington that are in poor health are federal lands.

That is why she’s glad that billions of dollars from the infrastructure bill are going towards treating federal forest lands in 11 western states.

"We now have a very significant partner in Washington State, with the federal government," she said.

Franz says that problems with our forest health have been 50 to 100 years in the making, and that these issues won’t be solved in just a few years.

She says these efforts need to continue for a long time to ensure out state is ready for a changing climate and severe drought.

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