Washington must continue its focus on wildfires

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December 6, 2022

In recent years, our 12th District communities have sadly experienced a significant impact from catastrophic wildfire. Our district has endured many devastating fires, including back-to-back years of the state’s largest wildfires -- 2014 and 2015 -- and many more in the years since. In 2022, the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) responded to hundreds of fires, including Bolt Creek Fire in Snohomish and King counties as well as the White River and Union Valley fires in Chelan County. Our risk of wildfire has been increasing, which is why proactive measures for forest management and fire response are necessary. These two areas will continue to be important priorities for me as I advocate for our district and adequate wildfire funding.


WA risks

This map, provided by DNR, shows the regions of Washington at risk of wildfires.

A stronger, more comprehensive approach

Washington state has been working toward a stronger, more comprehensive approach to reducing our risk of wildfires. That’s why I’m encouraged to see the Wildland Fire Protection 10-Year Strategic Plan by Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz. I’ve worked closely with Commissioner Franz and DNR staff over recent years and am very proud of the bill we passed together in 2017, Senate Bill 5546, to direct the state DNR to set up a framework for assessing and treating fire-prone lands. The law sets a specific goal of assessing and treating 1 million acres over 16 years, most likely through prescribed fire and strategic thinning. This process is now underway, but it will likely take several years of aggressive thinning and responsible prescribed fire in order to minimize our risk of catastrophic fires. As we’ve learned from the Era of Megafires discussions that originated in Wenatchee, we must take a proactive approach with wildfires in all neighborhoods and at every level of government. This includes responsible thinning and prescribed burning on state and federal forestlands, along with taking aggressive steps to create defensible space around your homes and neighborhoods through the Firewise Program. We must also ensure the state’s firefighting capability is as effective and efficient as possible.


Bolt Creek Fire

The Bolt Creek Fire greatly impacted portions of King and Snohomish counties, burning over 15,000 acres during the late summer and early fall of 2022. This fire greatly impacted businesses and families, prompting evacuations, creating hazardous air quality, and forcing multiple closures of Highway 2.

Increasing state support for wildfires

In recent years, the state budget significantly increased its support for forest health and wildfire response. Positioning additional resources in strategic locations across the state has shortened the response time when new blazes are spotted and has helped us put out fires soon after they start rather than just “managing” the fires once they begin burning. The state has recently converted to year-round wildfire staff, funded more seasonal staff, acquired additional firefighting air assets, and has contracted for priority private aircraft response. The Legislature also approved House Bill 1168 to invest $500 million over the next eight years for wildfire response, forest restoration, and community resilience.

I was proud to join my legislative colleagues in supporting House Bill 1168 last session. Passing this expanded policy was a multi-year effort by Commissioner Hilary Franz and her DNR staff. I was very honored to support this effort. To learn more about this new law, please click here. These new investments are important because the state has already spent hundreds of millions in recent years reimbursing the costs of wildfires. And that does not even factor in the negative long-term economic impact that wildfires have had on communities in our district, including the impact on our all-important tourism or recreational opportunities. There are also emotional costs and losses that cannot be quantified, as courageous firefighters from our area, sadly, have lost their lives or been severely injured battling these blazes. Finally, there is a quality-of-life impact caused, as smoke can blanket a region, making it dangerous for people to be outdoors and for many to breathe.

Fire 1

The Bolt Creek Fire burned thousands of acres of steep and rugged terrain in Snohomish and King counties during the late summer and early fall of 2022. Burning extended down to Highway 2 near both Skykomish and Baring.


Fire 2

The photo shows WSDOT crews clearing trees and brush Highway 2 was closed multiple times to fight the fires and later clear the debris, including debris from a subsequent fire-related mudslide. The damaged area may be prone to future floods and slides (see article below).

Legislature approved my Senate Bill 5158

Potential for increased utility-related wildfires is of growing interest to the Legislature. In 2021, I partnered with Chelan County Public Utility District and DNR to pass a bill supporting work of the Electric Utilities Wildland Fire Prevention Task Force released its recommendations to the Legislature. My Senate Bill 5158 directed Commissioner Franz to work with a Utility Wildland Fire Prevention Advisory Committee to implement recommendations issued in this report. These recommendations involve ways to prevent utility-caused wildfires, including model agreements to remove dangerous trees, developing communications protocols, and considering investigation recommendations. The group’s work would be maintained and periodically updated on DNR’s website to benefit utilities and our state. This work is very important to many of our local utilities, especially considering the 12th District’s recent history of catastrophic wildfires.


Fire 3

Local firefighters supporting each other during the 2015 Chelan Complex fires. Wildfires across the western United States are stretching our air and land resources.


History of my sponsored wildfire bills

During my years of work in the Senate, I have developed a strong partnership with my legislative colleagues and the DNR. During my first term as 12th District senator, three of my bills related to forest health or wildfire prevention were passed by the Legislature and signed into law, and last year, my first year of my second term, I sponsored and helped pass Senate Bill 5158. Commissioner Franz and her DNR staff worked diligently alongside me for each effort. Below is a summary of these four approved bills:

  • Senate Bill 5158 (approved, 2021) establishes the Utility Wildland Fire Prevention Advisory Committee to implement recommendations issued in this report. The group’s work includes establishing model agreements to remove dangerous trees, finalizing communications protocols and investigation recommendations. This work is very important to many of our local utilities.
  • Senate Bill 6211 (approved, 2018) provides DNR authority to handle revenue and authorize spending under the Good Neighbor Authority agreement signed by DNR and the U.S. Forest Service in 2017. The Good Neighbor Authority is a partnership between governments to streamline management of national forestlands.
  • Senate Bill 6032, Sec. 303 (approved, 2018) directs funds to the Washington State Parks, at the request of the Forest Ridge Wildfire Coalition, for forest management activities at the Squilchuck State Park in Chelan County.
  • Senate Bill 5546 (approved, 2017) directs DNR to set up a framework for assessing the health of fire-prone lands and treating them. It sets a specific goal of assessing and treating 1 million acres over 16 years, most likely through prescribed fire and mechanical thinning. The bill also includes a stakeholder process and biennial progress reviews to the Legislature.
  • Senate Bill 5270 (approved, 2017) was passed unanimously by both legislative chambers and signed into law by the governor to remove the “temporary” label from the contract-timber harvest program operated by DNR. The program allows the agency to hire someone to harvest timber and sort the logs, after which DNR can sell them. It began in 2003 and was expanded by lawmakers in 2009.


fire 4

Our region has suffered many wildfires, including the 2021 Twentyfive Mile Fire in Chelan. This photo was taken by firefighter Zach Fuecker.


Looking ahead on wildfire issues

The state wildfire season is unfortunately growing longer. It is not even a wildfire “season” anymore because fires are occurring as early as April and some aren’t totally extinguished until a heavy rain or snowfall late in the year. Wildfires are no longer just impacting areas in central or eastern Washington. We’re seeing wildfires west of the Cascades, also. This is having a significant and growing impact on our state budget and local communities. The Legislature has taken positive steps forward recently on wildfire policy with my bills and others. One bill of particular interest last session was Senate Bill 5803, sponsored by Sen. Christine Rolfes, directing utilities to develop wildfire mitigation plans. As part of this process, the Utility Wildfire Advisory Committee associated with Senate Bill 5158 would have input in the planning. Each session going forward, there likely will be one or more wildfire bills of interest. As we move ahead identifying state priorities, the issue of wildfires and wildfire suppression should continue to be high on our list. In addition to state efforts, the federal government is also stepping up funding for wildfire prevention, which is expected to complement the state’s strategy. To read more about recent decision’s related to the federal investment in wildfire, click on the article below:


Commissioner Franz

I am grateful to have a close working relationship with our Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz. Here is a special message from her to the 12th District.


Loch Katrine Fire

The Loch Katrine Fire burned during this fall in King County, sending noticeable smoke towards Carnation, Fall City, Snoqualmie, and North Bend. Wildfires are starting earlier and burning later, sometimes not being totally extinguished until snowfall. Wildfires are now becoming an issue on both sides of our state.


Recent media and radio interview

I frequently participate in local radio interviews and other news media requests. With all of the competition with social media and online platforms, it is a tremendous benefit for our communities to still have local media committed to community news. Included below is a recent interview of interest.

Sen. Hawkins – KOZI interview

Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your state senator.



Brad Hawkins



State Senator Brad Hawkins
12th Legislative District

Website: senatorbradhawkins.org

107 Newhouse Building - P.O. Box 40412 | Olympia, WA 98504-0412
(360) 786-7622 or Toll-free: (800) 562-6000