WA Lands Commissioner Reviews Unusual Fire Season

Oct 19, 2020

Washington Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz [in yellow] walks with Malden Mayor Chris Ferrell a few days after a wildfire burned much of the small Whitman County town.
Credit Doug Nadvornick/SPR

The wildfire season in Washington is winding down. Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz says the Department of Natural Resources is sending some of its seasonal firefighters home for the winter.

She stopped in Spokane on Monday to look back on what has been an unusual season.

Her crews have had to alter their normal routines to minimize the potential spread of Covid. But it’s also unusual in that most of the major fires came at once around Labor Day. Because huge Oregon and California fires also started around the same time, she says Washington had a hard time finding fire crews and incident management teams that could help.

“This year we were limited, Covid-wise," Franz said. "We couldn’t get fire fighters internationally. So there are a number of ways Covid impacted, but we are fortunate in that, when it came to us, the number of firefighters that we have on our team that contracted Covid was much less than we expected. I put that to the fact that we wrote that manual literally in the midst of Covid, the manual of how to protect our firefighters, and they followed direction.”

Franz says only two or three firefighters tested positive for Covid while on duty and another one tested positive before reporting for a fire.