Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell is advocating for more use of prescribed burns to protect communities and their firefighters.
Cantwell, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, reminded top officials from the Interior Department and the U.S. Forest Service that the latest forecasts are pointing to potential for a severe wildfire season. Predictions for the summer show above normal potential for significant wildfires throughout the Pacific Northwest.
In May, almost all the states in the country experienced temperatures that were two to six degrees above average, Cantwell said, adding that the situation was more extreme in her home state.
“Central Washington temperatures were ten degrees above average. And because these conditions are supposed to last through September, places like Southeast Washington will likely experience more large fires than they have in previous years, starting in July,” she said
May was also extremely dry. Washington, Oregon and California all received less than 50 percent of their average precipitation.
Cantwell advocated for spending on new technologies such as drones and improved fire shelters. She said she wants to be sure standard equipment such as bucket trucks and helicopters are in ample supply.
But she also highlighted prevention through management. Citing a study published in this month’s Journal of Forestry, Cantwell said a wildfire in August produces five times as much smoke as a controlled burn in May and June.
‘“I guarantee you, if you asked people in Puget Sound, ‘Would you tolerate a little bit of smoke, in those months, to reduce the constant summer-wide haze that was then present, because of fire ?’ I guarantee you, they would say, ‘Yes, let’s do the prescribed burning,’” she told the committee.
She also said she wants to see continuing cooperation between agencies and political jurisdictions, to maximize information sharing and increase the effectiveness of available firefighting crews.
Cantwell's comments came partly in response to remarks from Jeff Rupert, head of wildfire readiness for the the Department of the Interior.
Rupert said 2017 will be "remembered as the 'Year of the Smoke' across many communities, some well downwind of any wildfires.”