OLYMPIA, WA - After seven years, eastern Washington State Representative Mary Dye (R-Pomeroy) and Asotin County Fire District #1 Chief Noel Hardin of Clarkston have seen their work to allow local fire departments that use aviation suppression efforts on the initial attack of brush, timber, and grass fires to be reimbursed by the state for those expenses come to fruition. Governor Jay Inslee today signed House Bill 1498 into law.
Dye authored the firefighting legislation at the urging of Hardin and has introduced it every two years since 2016, her second year in office.
The so-called “Aviation Assurance Funding” measure was one of the final bills to be released to the House floor for a vote before the 5:00 p.m. deadline, in which legislation had to pass from its chamber of origin to survive in the 2023 legislative session.
“This bill is very important in shoring up the frontline firefighting forces and defense against catastrophic wildfire. With the collaboration of the Department of Natural Resources, we found a path forward to provide the resources necessary to support some of our rural and volunteer fire districts,” Dye said previously.
In February, Hardin testified in favor of the bill during a hearing of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. He said the bill has a great deal of potential for not only aiding fire districts throughout the state but the state in general.
“Minutes count when a fire breaks out. If local fire districts can immediately begin using air support to attack a fire, it could be out much quicker, prevent [the] destruction of timber and range land, protect our air quality, and save the state millions of dollars. That’s opposed to if those fire chiefs must wait for state mobilization efforts. In the period of that waiting time, a small fire could explode into a large one,” Dye says. “This bill would allow local air support to take place quickly and provide reimbursement to those local fire suppression entities.” The bill authorizes the Department of Natural Resources, subject to appropriation, to use wildfire suppression funding to assist local and tribal fire departments with aerial fire response capabilities during the initial attack phase of fighting a wildland fire. It also would require DNR to convene a work group composed of wildfire aviation subject matter experts, wildfire aviation contractors, fire service representatives, wildland fire management staff, and others to develop a state certification program for aircraft and pilots used in wildfire suppression.
Dye teamed up with Representative Tom Dent (R-Moses Lake), a ranking member on the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, a pilot, and a senior member of the State Legislative Wildfire Caucus. They negotiated with state Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz to craft the proposal into a measure that would have the support of fellow lawmakers and the DNR.
“This has been a long journey — one of collaboration, compromise, and working to educate lawmakers, state agency heads, and others in Olympia about how we could prevent the devastation of wildfires by early aerial mobilization. This issue has been too important for my district and t