WENATCHEE — Washington Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz stood at the foot of the burn scar left by the Red Apple Fire on Tuesday, and announced the emergency closure of wild areas she supervises in eastern Washington.
Effective Friday, lands managed by the Department of Natural Resources are closed to recreation and public access, to help prevent similar human-caused wildfires from taking hold. The order includes DNR-managed state lands, conservation areas, community forests and associated roads, trails, campgrounds, recreational sites and recreational facilities.
“This decision isn’t made lightly,” Franz said. “We live for our summers in Washington state. … But the fact is these fires are too many and this season is looking too long, and the risk that is being presented to our residents, our communities and our firefighters is far too great.”
Franz said she was very concerned about the coming month: “Our men and women are getting tired, and they’re only going to be more tired, and the risks only get more significant as we head into more hot, dry days.”
She called on Washington residents to be mindful of extreme fire dangers in the state, and the current bans on outdoor burning. “Ninety percent of our fires are caused by people. We need every single person of Washington state stepping in and being part of this team, this firefighting team, by preventing these fires in the first place.”
Already there have been more than 900 fires statewide, with an estimated 140,000 acres burned, midway through July. Last year was a historically grim fire season, burning more than 800,000 acres in more than 1,600 individual fires, with 298 homes lost —including the near-total destruction of the town of Malden.
Losses like that spurred the state Legislature to pass House Bill 1168, a signature proposal form Franz that creates a permanent funding mechanism for wildfire suppression and prevention programs, including a modernized air fleet and community-level fire adaptive programs. The bill passed into law earlier this year, but its funding won’t be released until the end of July.
Once it does, Franz says, the need to train of new firefighters and purchase new equipment means the bill’s effects won’t really be felt until 2022.
“I believe that we can’t walk into this hopeless, and frankly, that’s why 1168 is there,” Franz said.