Democratic News

Washington, D.C. –– Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and U.S. Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.-05) convened a roundtable of local stakeholders in Spokane to discuss lessons learned from this summer’s wildland fires in the Washington state.

Across the state, communities were hit by one of the worst fire seasons in history. The senator and congresswoman discussed strategies for combating and preventing wildland fires in the bipartisan roundtable. Local community leaders, firefighters, first responders, elected officials and business owners participated in the bipartisan roundtable.

The discussion included ways to increase collaboration between county, state and federal agencies; the immediate needs of communities; how to improve the underlying health of forests; and long-term goals for fire preparation, prevention and suppression.

"We want our citizens here in Eastern Washington to know we are all partners, working together to make sure that when the next fire season comes around, we are going to be better prepared to fight these fires," Sen. Cantwell said. "We certainly want to stop fire borrowing, but we want to make sure we are doing the work in advance – the fuel reduction and modernizations that will help us be better prepared for the future."

“This summer was the one we feared. We experienced huge loss and damage across Eastern Washington, and we will be working for years to recover," Rep. McMorris Rodgers said. "Unfortunately, 13 of the last 15 years have been the most extensive wildfires in our country’s history. We must act now to do all we can to prevent this from happening again next summer."

Read Sen. Cantwell's statement from the roundtable below:

"Thank you to all for arranging this meeting. And thank you for coming today to share your thoughts and wisdom about what we’ve learned from the past fire season and where we need to go to be better prepared for the future.   

"So many of you really have faced this challenge head on and we thank you for that. And we certainly want to remember the three individuals that we lost – Andrew Zajac, Richard Wheeler and Tom Zbyszewski. And we’ve heard that Daniel Lyon is making good progress – we just got an update on his recovery. All of this is a stark reminder about the men and women who go out and fight these fires every day and try to help our communities.

"As many of you know, this fire season broke records again. It was the longest fire season in the history of our state. In total, more than 1 million acres of Washington state burned.

"For the first time in the state’s history, we mobilized a volunteer firefighting force to get out there and fight the fires.

"More than $319 million was spent on these Washington wildfires and that’s a lot of resources. It took more than 11,000 firefighters and included 1,569 Washington National Guard soldiers.

"So, we definitely want to talk about next steps. In August, the president did grant federal emergency aid. And just this past week, Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers and I and our other Washington colleagues, along with the Governor, sent a request for a Presidential Disaster Declaration, asking FEMA to help individual families. This is such an important issue.

"We learned from the Carlton Complex last year how important it is to work with these communities because they represent, really, the backbone of an economy. To have a workforce in these kinds of recreation or tourism communities, you have to have housing and it was all wiped out in Carlton by the fires. And if you don’t get the help or assistance to rebuild, where’s your workforce for tomorrow? So we really want to make sure that we address these issues.

"Obviously, we’ve heard of great devastation – I don’t know that we have anybody here from the PUD (Public Utility District) – but the amount of lines that have been burnt up and the cost of replacing them, just as we learned with the Carlton Complex fire, it’s a big cost and we want to be sure that we do everything we can to prepare.

"So, what do we need to do? Obviously, we’ve heard a lot already this summer. I had a series of hearings that we were doing in response to the cost of the Carlton Complex and what we learned last year, and we heard a lot from individuals.

"We know we want to have increased collaboration between the county, state and federal government and making sure that we are all coordinating together. People have brought up some really terrific ideas about how we can get more synergy working together.

"We need to make sure that we are helping immediately impacted communities, like on communications. The notion that people in Colville were trying to direct and be the Central Command and communicating with people who had lost broadband communication was fairly challenging. How can you be the Central Command if you don’t even have the ability to communicate?

"We want to have a faster response. We want to make more headway on how we fight these fires – so that is, basically, more preparedness.

"We certainly want to stop fire borrowing, but we want to make sure that we are doing the work in advance – the fuel reduction and modernizations that will help us be better prepared for the future.

"We want our citizens here in Eastern Washington to know that we are all partners, working together to make sure that for when the next fire season comes around, we are going to be better prepared to fight these fires.

"I thank you all for coming and look forward to what each and every one of you have to say about this issue and on what you think we need to focus on so we are better prepared for the future."
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