OLYMPIA, Wash. — A bill to create a dedicated fund to prevent and fight wildfires in Washington unanimously passed the state Senate in Olympia Friday.
House Bill 1168 would provide $125 million every two years to boost wildfire response, accelerate forest restoration and support community resilience.
The bill is sponsored by Rep. Larry Spring, D-Kirkland, and Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda. The bill now heads back to the House, which will accept or reject the changes made in the Senate.
"Washington is on the brink of breaking the cycle of inaction that has created our wildfire crisis," said Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz in a statement. Franz leads the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR), including its state wildfire fighting force.
"With this historic funding, we can make the transformative investments in wildfire response and forest health that we need to change the trajectory we are on," Franz continued. "We are one step closer to protecting our communities, our forests and the air we breathe."
The bill follows a destructive 2020 fire season in Washington, during which over 800,000 acres burned in more than 1,600 fires and 298 homes were destroyed.
Last year's wildfires rivaled the historic 2015 wildfire season that had more than 1 million acres burn and cost the state more than $342 million, according to the DNR.
"Lawmakers have agreed that Washington taxpayers can’t afford to keep losing $150 million each year to out-of-control wildfires. And our state also can’t afford to keep losing jobs, natural resources and even entire towns to this crisis," continued Franz.
According to the DNR, the state’s trajectory for wildfire severity has worsened in recent years, climbing from 293,000 acres burned in 2016 to 438,000 in 2018 to over 812,000 acres burned in 2020.
For two of the past three years, Washington has experienced the worst air quality in the world due to wildfires.