Legislation in the Washington House (HB 1578) is seeking to better prepare the state's communities for the impacts of wildfire smoke.

The bill, which has bipartisan support, focuses on those communities in Washington which face greater risks during and after wildfires.

Seventh District Rep. Joel Kretz (R) of Wauconda is a co-sponsor of the legislation and says it would also improve current protocols surrounding prescribed burning as well.

"Very often in the past when we've been wanting to do a (controlled) burn somewhere north of Wenatchee or up in Okanogan County, somebody would be controlling that from Yakima. They'd say, 'it's smoky in Yakima today, so you can't do the work that needs to be done all the way up there'. So we're trying to get the ability to detect smoke and put better systems in place that are set up more locally so we have much better and much more accurate readings on smoke and its threats to the public."

HB 1578 also looks to reduce the impacts of wildfire smoke on public health and would establish a statewide smoke monitoring and forecasting services team. It also enables the Washington Department of Natural Resources to deploy mobile air quality monitoring equipment, conduct simulation modeling, and provide real-time data and smoke exposure forecasts.

The bill has a total of nine sponsors, all of whom - besides Kretz, represent legislative districts on the state's westside.

Kretz says last year's late-season wildfires which impacted numerous cities west of the Cascades finally produced some long-overdue attention regarding the issue.

"We've (eastside) had as much as two months with super unhealthy air quality levels and it's really kind of funny to me to listen to some legislators from Seattle complain about four days of smoke this past summer and say, 'we've got to do something about it'. Not that I wish smoke on anyone but I'm kind of glad that at least a little bit got to Seattle finally and it's raised the awareness of the issue a whole bunch."

HB 1578 has a companion bill in the Senate (SB 5611), and the two pieces of legislation combined ask for $12.8 million over the next biennium to achieve their respectively-outlined goals.

The House bill is scheduled for a public hearing in the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources next Wednesday, while SB 5611 is slated for a public hearing in the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks the following day.

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