A Washington state legislator hopes to hear from farmers and other landowners affected by large forest fires in 2014 at an upcoming meeting.
Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, and Rep. Joel Kretz,R-Wauconda, host a meeting from 7-9 p.m. Jan. 5 in the Brewster High School Library at 503 S. Seventh St., in Brewster, Wash.
Kretz said the meeting is in response to concerns after huge forest fires in Okanogan County in 2014, including the Carlton Complex wildfire, which burned 250,000 acres.
“I want to hear from the people that lost the most in this fire, the most affected,” he said. “You have to look at the past to improve things in the future. How do we do a better job in the future?”
Kretz foresees long-term agricultural impacts from the fires. Land for grazing is in short supply, as burned pastures will take several years to regrow, and hundreds of miles of fencing are down, he said. Kretz also cited hay losses, orchard and infrastructure, generators used to supply power and deaths of livestock including “some really valuable genetics.”
Areas that typically aren’t burned as badly were those that were managed and thinned, Kretz said.
“It was defensible,” he said. “We’ve got to do something with the fuel situations in the forest.”
In August, Kretz expressed concern over the way the Carlton Complex fire was handled.
“I would say (my concerns) have probably grown,” he said in December. “It seems like everybody you talk to that was anywhere near it has another story of something that didn’t go well.”
Kretz said he is concerned about an apparent shift in approach in dealing with the fires.
“It’s gone from any talk of strategic attacking the fire to managing it, which means let it go and go sit in town, which we saw quite a bit of,” he said.
Kretz said the command structure doesn’t appear to make decisions in real time, which is necessary when dealing with a fire. Fire managers hire cheaper equipment from out of state when equipment is nearby, he said. A business in Republic, Wash., had five pieces of machinery ready to go to help a forest fire in Keller, Wash., 30 minutes away, he said.
“One got called out, he got down there, the fire’s going, they’re screaming for more and one of the supervisors said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ve got four coming up from Oregon — they’ll be here in six or seven hours,’” Kretz said. “We’ve got to look at the decision-making process and make it real. You don’t save money, because the fire gets away.”
Kretz hopes to use input from the meeting.
“There’s talk about revamping the state system; I’m not convinced it’s even fixable at this point,” he said. “My aim is to fix it if we can and if we can’t, take it apart and start new.”
Kretz is interested in a more local, regional approach. He plans an additional meeting in Olympia during the first few weeks of the legislative session.