Following a tour of Omak, Washington, site of the Cold Springs Fire, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz highlighted the need for both short- and long-term support of communities across Washington that have been damaged or destroyed by wildfire this fire season.
The Washington State Department of Resources (DNR) leader made the journey east to meet with leadership from the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Colville Reservation, Chairman Rodney Cawston, local and state officials and local fire chiefs and incident commanders, and to witness first-hand the destruction that the Cold Springs Fire brought to Omak, the surrounding areas and its residents, and hear about the livestock and wildlife suffering due to the fire.
“The devastation wrought here and elsewhere around the state by wildfire is unimaginable. What I saw on the ground and in the eyes of residents and tribal leaders is both heartbreak at the devastation and resolve to rebuild and respond to the needs of their neighbors during this crisis,” Franz said. “It’s not just one year; it’s year after year—and the time to take action at the pace and scale of wildfire is here, right now. We can and must make proactive investments now to strengthen our wildfire response and restore the health of our forests so that this doesn’t happen again. We must invest in our communities ripped apart by fire and help rebuild them with understanding, care and resources.”
Franz said she was particularly heartbroken over the loss of the child in the Cold Springs Fire last week and is praying for the parents as they recover from severe burns and the unimaginable loss of their child.
“We pray every single day that we don’t lose one life, one firefighter or resident. The news of the loss of Uriel, as a mother of three boys, hit me hard, as I know it did the entire community,” Franz said. “One death is too many. One community lost is too many. We must not forget Omak. We must not forget Uriel Hyland.
“I’m asking leaders—state, local, and executive—to join me in solutions that not only address the short-term needs of forest health and resiliency, but the long-term goal of landscape and community resilience in the face of climate change.”
As of Monday night, Washington has lost more than 807,000 acres to a total of 1,439 wildfires this year. More than 2,200 fire personnel are working the 13 large fires remaining on the landscape, as the state rapidly approaches 2015’s mark of a million acres burned that stands as the state’s worst-ever year for wildfire.
“Our firefighters just haven’t seen anything like this. They’ve fought gallantly and fearlessly, but they are overwhelmed,” Franz said. “Each year, we are strapped for resources at the state, regional and national levels. Extreme fire activity along the West Coast has highlighted how reliant we are on others for those resources – and how vulnerable that makes us. It’s time to take action and create a pipeline that ensures we never again repeat the dire situation we find ourselves in now.”