Democratic U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell is happy with part of the new budget request for the U.S. Forest Service that would apply to North Central Washington. 

Cantwell chaired a Senate hearing Tuesday, where she praised a proposal for a permanent program to pay for rehabilitation work after wildfires. 

She mentioned a portion of U.S. Highway 2, which closed down seven different times last fall. 

"The burned area response program will be able to provide more resources to areas impacted by wildfires, like those impacted by the Bolt Creek Fire that shut down Hwy. 2 in Washington last year after the fire burned the mountain slope just above the highway," said Cantwell. 

"These are really important areas to keeping communities operating, and in this case, a very vital link between the east and west part of our state open and moving." 

The Forest Service announced efforts to prevent landslides and floods along Highway 2 last October after receiving a letter requesting help from Cantwell and 8th District Congresswoman Kim Schrier. 

Bolt Creek Fire Image from Inciweb
Bolt Creek Fire Image from Inciweb

The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing Tuesday focused on President Biden’s FY2024 budget request for the U.S. Forest Service. 

Cantwell asked U.S. Forest Service Chief Randy Moore what can be done to make sure there's enough personnel ready to fight this fire season? 

“As we approach the busiest part of the fire year of 2023, for this year, the Forest Service is really aspiring to have about 11,300 firefighters on board,” said Chief Moore. “We know that we need additional capacity, which is why we're requesting additional capacity in the FY24 President's Budget. And we're requesting funding for an additional 975 firefighters and support personnel.” 

Image from National Interagency Fire Center
Image from National Interagency Fire Center

During the hearing, Cantwell also addressed the National Interagency Fire Center wildfire outlook, which shows areas in Central Washington to have above normal significant fire potential in July. 

“The Central part of our state, which is a pretty big ag economy, [over $4] billion worth of agricultural products, seems to be right in the epicenter of what people are saying will be the hotspot,” said Cantwell. 

Fires in the region last fall, including the Bolt Creek Fire, combined with winds to send heavy smoke directly into the Wenatchee Valley for several weeks in a row. 

Once the winds changed and sent the smoke to the state's west side, Seattle was labeled as having the worst air quality of any city on Earth. 

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