House passes Kretz bill to create wildfire prevention corridors

The state House of Representatives passed legislation that will help prevent wildfires from spreading and also protect firefighters.

The legislation, House Bill 1784, requires the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to prioritize forest health treatments to specifically and strategically include wildfire prevention corridors. It would also require DNR to track these treated areas and provide the information to wildfire personnel to assist with managing fire response.

Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda and sponsor of the bill, said the proposal builds upon legislation signed into law last year.

“I sponsored a bill last year that directed DNR to prioritize forest health treatments to specific tracts of land,” said Kretz. “The idea being, we shouldn't wait until the fire is at our backs – literally – to think about creating firebreaks. If we can begin that process now, firefighters have a better chance to stop catastrophic fires from spreading and we can better protect those in the field.

“This year's proposal takes the further step of directing those treatments to long specific corridors,” said Kretz. “In the past, fire managers have conceded large tracts of land to catastrophic fires, including structures, because they had no chance to build a fire line. I don't want to concede hundreds of thousands of acres because there's no geographical firebreak. We need to treat long corridors of land throughout the forest in strategic places to help keep fires small.”

Kretz said the concept of properly-managed and treated forests was never more evident than after the Carlton Complex fire.

“What we saw in the Sinlahekin after that fire was a real eye-opener for a lot of people,” said Kretz. “You had forestland that was completely untreated burning with an intensity that turned most everything to ash. But when the fire hit patches of treated land – underbrush cleared, timber thinned out, controlled burns utilized – the differences were startling. You could clearly see the resiliency of a healthy forest. These were the places that firefighters could make a stand. We need more of these targeted corridors.”

Kretz said if more long, narrow corridors were strategically targeted for specialized treatments, firefighters would have more tools available to them before a wildfire even begins.

“Sharp elevation changes, cliffs, seasonal ponds, streams, dry creek beds, old and current access roads – these are all great places to build a fire line. But we can't depend on those when we have forests that encompass hundreds of thousands of acres,” said Kretz.  “If we identify those features and then add long treated corridors to work in conjunction with the natural geographical features, we have a better chance of avoiding catastrophic wildfires while helping to protect our firefighters in the field.”

Kretz's bill passed 96-0 and now goes to the Senate for further consideration.

The 105-day 2019 legislative session is scheduled to end April 28.

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Washington State House Republican Communications
houserepublicans.wa.gov