Rep. Mary Dye introduces legislation to provide funding for initial attack aerial resources on wildfires

2015 was the worst fire season on record in Washington state. Since the 2016 session, Rep. Mary Dye, R-Pomeroy, has been focusing her efforts on the continued strife surrounding local fire agency initial response and suppression efforts to wildfires.

Dye introduced House Bill 1736 as part of a collaborative effort to find financial common ground for local fire agencies. This bill would create a premobilization assistance program to assist with aerial support during the initial attack of a wildland fire.

“I am really drilling down on the wildfire problems in this state,” said Dye. “A local fire department in Asotin County proposed a brilliant idea. We need to put together a small funding package for local agencies to receive reimbursement during their initial attack efforts. It's about ensuring timely decisions are made to put the fires out, rather than wasting precious time because of the financial burden of obtaining necessary resources.”

Dye's bill would allow local fire agencies to request reimbursement through the premobilization assistance program after first deployment of aircraft during a wildfire. The State Fire Marshal would provide up to $10,000 per wildfire incident. If costs exceed $10,000, additional reimbursement would be allowed, not to exceed $20,000.

“We have seen many instances in our state where timelier initial efforts to stop wildfires would have prevented them from growing into catastrophic fires,” said Dye. “The problem lies in the cost of getting aircraft in the air. Local fire departments cannot afford to deploy aircraft, especially in smaller communities. Having a reimbursement program in place allows local agencies the comfort of knowing their initial attack efforts won't financially overextend their department.”

In 2015, three wildland firefighters lost their lives when their engine crashed enroute to provide initial line attack efforts on the Twisp River Fire in Okanogan County. Air suppression tactics are crucial due to the large amounts of water quickly and effectively applied to a fire. Aerial tactics help eliminate the need for some of the ground crews potentially placed in harm's way.

“On August 19, 2015, I was involved in the Twisp River Fire. Sadly, I was the only survivor of the United States Forest Service engine that crashed,” said Daniel Lyon, Jr. “Three of my brothers died. I suffered third degree burns over 65 percent of my body. I believe if more air resources were available during the initial attack of this fire, lives would have been saved. I understand this bill has its financial costs, but I believe in the long-run it will actually save the state millions of dollars. If we have the resources initially to stop a fire when it's small, we can help prevent the burning and catastrophic expansion. One of the best ways to quickly suppress a wildfire is through aerial attack. On behalf of my three fallen brothers, it's time to move forward to save money, land, homes, and ultimately lives by providing our local fire agencies with financial assistance to get the job done.”

HB 1736 received unanimous support from the House Public Safety Committee. It now moves on to the House Appropriations Committee for further consideration.

The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn the 105-day session on April 23.


Washington State House Republican Communications