Gov. Inslee touts plan to prevent wildfires

Gov Inslee Wikimedia.jpgOur damp and snowy winter virtually assures us of an uber-emerald spring. Lush foliage and wildflowers soon will sprout from the soaked soil.

And eventually, all that abundant vegetation will wither and become wildfire fuel.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee likely had that in mind this week as he pled his case in rural Spokane County for improving forest health and boosting Firewise practices.

Inslee delivered his message near Nine Mile Falls, on the property of a former fire chief who lost 20 acres in the devastating 1991 Nine Mile wildfire. Inslee's visit spotlighted his proposed budget that carves out $25 million to reduce timberland hazards and fund 80 additional Firewise communities in the state.

Washington already ranks third in the nation with 142 active Firewise communities, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

State representative Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, accompanied Inslee on his tour and said that if safety and liability issues can be resolved, he'd like to see prescribed burns used to reduce wildfire fuel.

Snow remains on the ground in many fire-prone areas of the Northwest, but warm weather and heavy rains have melted much of it. If extended forecasts hold, rural residents could start removing winter blowdown, pruning low-hanging branches, and thinning trees before April 1.

man cuts timber with chainsawState foresters say that in the past century, forest practices led fire crews to extinguish all wildfires to protect lives and commerce. The result is overgrown timberlands that are more vulnerable to widespread infernos, like those seen in north-central Washington in recent years.

Hilary Franz, Washington's public lands commissioner, told the Nine Mile Falls crowd that thinning forests now will prevent fires as well as incur less cost to fight them.

"It's important we get funding for forest health," Franz said.

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