Cantwell Demands Best Tools For Firefighters, Given Bad Fire Season Forecast

New forecast shows Pacific Northwest to have an above average fire season

June 5, 2018

Watch Video of Senator Cantwell’s opening statement here.

Watch video of Sen Cantwell’s questions here. 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, in a hearing to examine the 2018 Wildland Fire Outlook, Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) made a strong case for using the new tools now available to firefighters this season, such as drones and improved fire shelters, as well as demanding that the agencies do more to increase the safety and effectiveness of our firefighters this fire season.

According to the Wildfire Forecast released on June 1st by the National Interagency Fire Center, most of the West received less than 50 percent of its average precipitation for May, which will likely result in fuels in the mountains becoming critically dry by late July.  Furthermore, nearly all of the country experienced temperatures that were two to six degrees above average last month. Central Washington temperatures were 10 degrees above average.  Because these conditions are supposed to last through September, places like eastern Washington will likely experience more large fires than they have in previous years, starting in July. 

During the hearing, Senator Cantwell said, “As we approach this fire season, making sure that those on the fire line have the best possible information is going to be critical… Given what we are looking at this summer, I want to make sure that firefighters have every tool available to them to help fight these fires.  They need to be as safe as possible and as efficient as possible”

“Last week the Department of the Interior awarded four contracts to companies who operate medium sized unmade aerial vehicles for wildfires. I am proud to say that one of those was InSitu from Southwest Washington and Northeast Oregon, a company that spans the Columbia…and we’re so proud of that technology,” said Senator Cantwell. “Most importantly we’re proud that Interior is being very aggressive about using this tool on wildland fires, and we want to make sure that there is no barriers between the Forest Service and Interior working together to implement this. This is so critical for information about fire size, starts, and safety and security of our firefighters.”

Senator Cantwell secured a commitment from Secretary Perdue and Secretary Zinke to use unmanned aircraft technology this fire season in May after introducing bipartisan legislation to encourage the use of this potentially life-saving technology while fighting deadly wildfires.

Senator Cantwell also questioned the Acting Chief of the Forest Service on the current status of its fleet of airtankers. “About the shift of contracts for the 35 percent of your air tankers and water scoopers, including Aeroflite’s in Spokane, to a “call-when-needed”… I want to make sure that you have every tool available to you.”

“Having that kind of air ability to help mitigate is so, so important to these communities,” said Senator Cantwell. “So, I hope that you’ll, given what you just said, work with us to figure out how to make this not a transitional season here but a season where you have every tool at your disposal. That’s what people in the West want us to be doing.”

Broadcast quality video of Senator Cantwell’s opening statement can be found here.

Broadcast quality video of Senator Cantwell’s questions can be found here.

Witness testimony will be available online immediately before the start of each hearing on the committee website.