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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Washington Governor, Lands Commissioner Practice Deploying Fire Shelters

Austin Jenkins
Northwest News Network
Washington Governor Jay Inslee and state Land Commissioner Peter Goldmark discuss wildfire dangers after practicing getting into a fire shelter.

Approximately 40 small wildland fires are burning across the Northwest -- and it’s only early June.

Governor Jay Inslee highlighted the concern Wednesday at an event where he practiced getting into a fire shelter. He did the fire shelter test with Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark. They had 30 seconds to deploy and get into a mock fire shelter.

Deploying a fire shelter is a multi-step process. First you have to open a Velcro tab and then you remove the shelter from its hard case. After ripping open another Velcro tab, you shake out the folded-up shelter into its full length, place the shelter over your head, step into the bottom and lay down on the ground.

Both Inslee and Commissioner Goldmark both made it into their shelters in less than 30 seconds. They also completed a half mile “pack test” walk around part of Capitol Lake in Olympia.

Afterwards Goldmark said he’s concerned about the fire danger on both sides of the Cascades.

“The set up both in western Washington and eastern Washington is troubling indeed,” he said.

Goldmark is requesting an additional $4.5 million in the state budget for more training, fire engines and helicopter crews.

Washington’s Department of Natural Resources has eight Super Huey helicopters equipped to help fight fires this summer. The agency may also contract with up to three airplanes to be on 24/7 standby to fight fires in Washington.

So far this year, Washington’s Department of Natural Resources has counted 204 fires, including a 200 acre brush fire that burned near Naches Tuesday but was quickly extinguished.

Goldmark pointed to several factors that could result in a “very destructive” wildfire season this year: poor forest health, drought conditions and hotter than normal temperatures.

“It could be a very, very dangerous year,” the lands commissioner warned.

Thirty-six small fires are currently burning in Washington and Oregon. The largest, at just over 100 acres, is the lightning-caused Thunder Creek Fire in the North Cascades National Park Complex east of Marblemount.

In a typical year, a fire like that in rugged wilderness terrain would be allowed to burn as part of the natural ecosystem. But because of the early season fire conditions, the decision was made to send in a team of smokejumpers to try to contain the fire. Wildland firefighters and a helicopter crew are also aiding in the effort.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."