15th District legislators call public meeting about wildfire response
Dry Creek Complex fire raises questions about authority, procedures in 'no man's land'
Legislators representing the portion of Yakima County damaged by the Dry Creek Complex fire in late August have scheduled a public meeting in Sunnyside to discuss the response to the blaze and how to better handle wildfires on property outside fire protection zones, sometimes referred to as “no man's land” or “stranded land.”
Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, Rep. Bruce Chandler, R-Granger, and Rep. David Taylor, R-Moxee will host the public meeting at 9:30 a.m. Monday, Nov. 23, at Snipes Mountain Brewery and Restaurant, 905 Yakima Valley Highway.
Honeyford said the meeting is aimed at bringing concerned citizens together with representatives of the firefighting community, including the state fire marshal and area fire chiefs. The goal is to begin sorting out questions related to fighting fires in areas without designated fire protection districts.
“There has been quite a bit of confusion over the years about protection of these properties,” said Chandler, ranking Republican on the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. “We need the efforts of the fire response agencies to be better coordinated so we can protect these properties and ensure public safety. My hope is that this meeting will produce a clear plan for situations like the Dry Creek fire in the future, so that we know exactly what we can bring to Olympia.”
The Dry Creek fire destroyed the landmark Silver Dollar Café, located at the junction of State Route 241 and State Route 24 north of Sunnyside, out of city limits and beyond fire protection district limits.
“There seems to be quite a bit of dissatisfaction among a number of folks about how the Dry Creek fire was handled, and questions have been raised which should be answered before the next fire season,” said Honeyford, Republican leader on the Senate Environment, Water and Energy Committee. “I'm coming with a dozen questions of my own, and if the solutions need to come from the Legislature, the three of us can take them to the Capitol in January for the 2010 legislative session.”
For instance, Honeyford wants to know:
• who has ultimate authority over access to stranded land;
• whether emergency personnel should be required to respond after determining land is outside a fire district; and
• what to do about Good Samaritans when these properties are involved.
“In 2007 the Legislature passed a measure which led to a policy – written by the state's police chiefs and sheriffs – aimed at balancing the property rights of individuals and the authority of government in cases of wildfire and forest fires,” said Taylor. “As legislators it's our job to look, with our constituents, at the lessons of the Dry Creek fire and ask: did the policy work as intended?”
Honeyford, Chandler and Taylor have invited other legislators to the Nov. 23 meeting, along with the Washington State Department of Transportation, which lost the S.R. 241 bridge over Dry Creek to the blaze, and the Benton Rural Electric Association, which lost several utility poles.
Sarah Lamb, Public Information Officer, (360) 786-7720
Bill Taylor, Senior Information Officer, (360) 786-7074
###Washington State House Republican Communications