Wildfire resources may cover mudslides and other disasters

OLYMPIA — A bill ensuring firefighting resources can be mobilized statewide and deployed in response to disasters such as the Oso mudslide is encountering little opposition in the Legislature.

Last week the state House unanimously passed the bill which makes clear the state law for wildfire mobilization covers responses to non-fire incidents such as landslides, earthquakes, floods and outbreaks of contagious disease.

It also spells out that fire departments, fire districts and regional fire protection authorities that respond to such emergencies are entitled to reimbursement for expenses they incur.

House Bill 1389 is awaiting action in the Senate Government Operations and Security Committee.

The mobilization law took effect in 1995 and had been used 180 times without rejection until last March when the Washington State Patrol denied a request during the response to the deadly Oso mudslide because it was a non-fire emergency.

In making their decision, authorities relied on an opinion from the state Attorney General’s Office critical of the law’s use in response to the 1999 World Trade Organization riots in Seattle.

Clarifying the law is a top recommendation of the commission appointed by Gov. Jay Inslee and Snohomish County Executive John Lovick.

A similar bill failed to pass out of the House or Senate in 2014 due to concerns of budget writers of the potential cost if there were numerous mobilizations.

House members said what occurred in Oso has brought a greater degree of urgency to clarify the law and put the situation back to where it was before the attorney general opinion.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com

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