Commissioner Franz Visits Big Hollow Fire in SW Washington, Says ‘It’s Time to Stop Pointing Fingers and Get to Work’
September 18, 2020
Big Hollow Fire in and around the Gifford Pinchot National Forest is the largest uncontained wildfire in the state
Greeted by much-welcomed rain, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz today visited the firefighting camp of the Big Hollow Fire near the southwestern Washington town of Amboy to thank fire crews for their hard work, and reassure them that she will not let Washingtonians forget about the catastrophic damage wildfires left across the state since Labor Day anytime soon.
“There’s untold damage across our state – east, central and west; urban and rural – that we need to continue to highlight so the rain and snow doesn’t dull the memory of destroyed lives and smoky skies. I want state and federal leaders to keep the resolve we feel now, and act at the speed of wildfire to address our forest health crisis and build a 21st century firefighting force,” Franz told local leaders and state elected officials, who attended the fire briefing. “We owe it to our firefighters and our communities to do all we can to ensure our resources are not stretched as thin as this year ever again.”
With wildfires raging in Oregon and California, massive wildfires powered by hurricane-force winds broke out across Washington – from Graham in Pierce County to Omak in Okanogan County. There was no additional help available from other states to boost the response effort on the ground, Franz explained. To make matters worse, she said, air assets, Washington’s first line of wildfire defense, were grounded by the high winds and lack of visibility from wildfire smoke.
The Washington State Department of Resources’ (DNR) leader has traveled across the state this past week to see first-hand the destruction. In Malden, some 80% of the Whitman County town’s structures burned in a matter of hours. Outside Omak, the Cold Springs Fire engulfed a 60-mile swath of land, and claimed the first life in this year’s wildfires, a one-year-old child.
“Wildfire is a statewide issue. Families who have never had to deal with evacuations because they are on the west side of the state, are now experiencing what eastern Washington residents face every year. Life and livelihoods have been lost. This is an issue that touches us all – it affects us all,” Franz said.
“My hope is that people stop pointing fingers about who or what is to blame and get to work on solutions, such as forest health investments, community resilience, and laying the groundwork for economic recovery in hard-hit communities we know will take a long time and a lot of hands.”
Fires Burn Area Larger than Rhode Island
More than 996,000 acres of Washington has burned in to a total of 1,466 wildfires this year, nearing the 2015 mark of 1,137,664 acres burned that stands as the state’s worst-ever year for wildfire. Most of that, 686,971 acres, has burned since Sept. 6. So far, 609 structures have been damaged or destroyed in Washington; 205 residences have been destroyed and 16 more have been damaged. More than 1,500 fire personnel are working the eight large fires remaining on the landscape.
Photos and video from Franz’s visit to the Big Hollow Fire spike camp can be accessed here.
Wildfire Communications Manager