New base will improve response to growing number of wildfires in western Washington


The Washington State Department of Natural Resources bases a tanker, along with other planes, at Olympia Airport.

About a third of the 1,600 forest fires reported in Washington state started west of the Cascades.

Now, for the first time, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources is basing a tanker, along with other planes, at the Olympia airport so crews can fight these fires on the US side. A state that is most associated with rain, but where summers have become drier.

“Over the past five to ten years we’ve really seen fire behavior change, fuel patterns change,” said Scott Neves, Fire Chief for Cowlitz 2 Fire & Rescue based in Kelso in southwestern Switzerland. Washington.

Labor Day week of 2020 saw a 20,000-acre blaze in the Gifford-Pinchot National Forest that did not receive as much media coverage as the Oregon wildfires that burned entire neighborhoods and in the greater Portland metropolitan area. Other fires, including the Sumner Grade Fire in Pierce County, burned two homes, damaged others, and threatened even more in and around Bonney Lake. All of these fires occurred west of the Cascade Mountains.

Neves said 40% of the land his agency is responsible for is considered an urban / wilderness interface, which means homes are in and among trees, forests and other wilderness. He said it was a relief to know that his agency could now call in tankers from that base.

“If I can have air in an initial attack, I can keep the little fires small,” Neves said.

It is not only that planes, including a Huey helicopter belonging to the Department of Natural Resources and two Fire Bosses, are available from the base, it is that the base is now equipped to load all these planes, including including a Q-400 turboprop refueler. The Q-400’s reservoir can hold 2,650 gallons and make several drops. Fire Bosses are firefighting planes that are basically harvest duster on floats that can foam and recharge lake water.

Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz, who heads the Department of Natural Resources, said the funding provided under what’s known as Bill 1168 has helped pay for the base. The planes are under contract with Washington state and are shared with other states, but Washington has the first call. Contracts are a priority for Franz who said that as the fire season in Washington tends to unfold later than in California, Oregon and other western states, resources are often already committed. elsewhere, which bypasses Washington when the worst fire season really takes off.

Washington’s fire season is expected to last another five to seven weeks.

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