King County Unveils New Wildfire Strategies

KING COUNTY, WA — On the first day of a summer heat wave, King County officials unveiled a 12-part strategy to reduce wildfire risks and better protect the region’s forests and at-risk communities.

King County Executive Dow Constantine detailed the region’s first-ever “Wildfire Risk Reduction Strategy” during a news conference Tuesday, centered around a dozen actions to improve wildfire preparedness, response and recovery efforts as summers trend hotter and drier.

“As climate change increases the odds of a devastating wildfire occurring on our side of the Cascades, we are taking immediate action to better protect people, homes, and infrastructure,” Constantine said. “Our experts and partners have delivered a solid set of recommendations that will strengthen our region’s wildfire resilience, response, and recovery.”

County departments started working on the plan as part of the broader climate action plan in 2020 and last year brought together local fire departments, community representatives, Tribal agencies and other partners to develop an outline of best practices using ideas from other fire-prone areas of the country.

Officials also consulted new maps from the state Department of Natural Resources, which expanded the portion of King County classified as part of the “wildland-urban interface,” where more people and infrastructure are at a higher risk for wildfires. Constantine’s office estimate roughly 350,000 people, or 15 percent of King County’s population, live within the area, including areas around Sammamish, Issaquah, North Bend, Maple Valley, Auburn and Enumclaw.

“Our climate is changing rapidly and we know that Issaquah is vulnerable to its impacts,” said Issaquah Mayor Mary Lou Pauly. “The science is definitive and our community has experienced more frequent and intense rain storms and flooding in the winters and hotter and dryer temperatures in the summers. As we undergo our own climate change vulnerability assessment, this important work of planning for wildfires is essential toward strengthening our community’s resiliency.”

(King County)

Last year, local fire agencies reported more than 700 brush fire responses in South King County from May through September.

The county’s new strategy focuses on making forests more resilient, strengthening emergency responses and reducing community risks where they are the greatest. Part of that effort includes “targeted fuel reduction” to remove and control flammable invasive plant species near homes and critical infrastructure. Another facet of the plan is working with King County firefighting partners to streamline resources to make responses cheaper and more streamlined, and getting helicopters in the air faster.

Here are some of the other recommendations in the report:

  • Working with communities in the wildland-urban interface to help them develop preparedness, response, and recovery plans.
  • Expanding assistance programs for homeowners who want to reduce wildfire risks on their property.
  • Increasing technical and financial assistance for small forest landowners to help them improve the health of their forest.
  • Making it easier and less expensive for emergency responders to share resources faster.
  • Improving evacuations in the wildland-urban interface by adopting the ‘Ready, Set, Go!’ public education model.
  • Developing post-fire response plans that promote forest recovery and reduce wildfire impacts on natural resources.

>> Learn more by reading the full report via King County.

Source: Bellevue Patch