Gov. Inslee visits Ellensburg to talk about wildfire season

Evans Canyon Fire Yakima County
Credit: Emily Goodell, KAPP-KVEW

ELLENSBURG, Wash. — Gov. Jay Inslee met with emergency management officials Tuesday in Ellensburg to discuss preparations for the upcoming wildfire season.

“We’ve got this horrendous fire problem that’s facing our state,” Inslee said.

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, the risk of significant fires in southeast Washington is expected to be very low in April and May, but in June and July, that risk will rise to above average.

At a roundtable meeting with emergency management officials, Inslee listened to concerns and requests for assistance. Kittitas Valley Fire and Rescue Chief John Sinclair said their department is concerned about vehicle fires along the I-90 and I-82 corridors.

“If there’s a way to maintain the vegetation, giving us some room alongside the freeway, that would greatly reduce the vehicle fires turning into a 10,000 acre fire,” Sinclair said.

Last year, more than 1,250 square miles burning in more than 1,600 fires across the state, which destroyed 298 homes and almost the whole town of Malden.

Franklin County Emergency Management Director Sean Davis said his agency was concerned about what would happen if the incident management team in charge of running the mass vaccination site at the Benton County Fairgrounds got called to fight a wildfire.

“With the fire season coming up, there’s concern that one or the other is going to be extremely diminished,” Davis said.

Earlier this month, the state legislature passed House Bill 1168 to spend $125 million every two years to prevent and fight wildfires in Washington state. The money will come out of the general fund for the first two years; after that, the bill mandates lawmakers find a stable funding source beyond that.

The funds will go to hire and train more firefighters, improve leadership, buy more airplanes and helicopters, and improve fire detection systems.

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