<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=192888919167017&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">
Tuesday,  May 21 , 2024

Linkedin Pinterest
News / Clark County News

Clark County Council OKs agreement to use Camp Bonneville property for firefighting

DNR looks at options to beef up firefighting methods after closure of Larch Corrections Center

The Columbian
Published: April 17, 2024, 6:25pm

Clark County will again partner with the Washington Department of Natural Resources to help combat wildfires in the region as officials plan a season without Larch Corrections Center firefighters.

On Tuesday, the Clark County Council unanimously approved an agreement allowing the state agency to set up a forward operating base at Camp Bonneville, a former Army base. Similar to the first agreement between the county and the state agency, signed in 2019, it allows DNR to place a helicopter at Camp Bonneville. In return, DNR will pay the county up to $1,000 per month for use of the property, fuel truck and a building to house up to seven crew members.

Helicopters are used to transport firefighters and cargo and can also carry up to 700 gallons of water or fire retardant to be dropped on wildfires. In rural areas with few roads and steep terrain, helicopters can quickly get to areas that are difficult to reach or inaccessible for fire crews.

With the closure of Larch Corrections Center in October, DNR is looking at several options to beef up its firefighting methods for the region. Many residents are equally worried about the upcoming fire season.

For more than six decades, DNR trained Larch prisoners to fight fires. Prior to the facility’s closure, 80 prisoners assisted in wildland firefighting. In the past 10 years, about 3,000 incarcerated men responded to fires of various sizes both locally and statewide. Although the state Department of Corrections initially said 70 beds would be made available at the Longview Reentry Center, that plan fell through, primarily due to the related costs and logistics.

DNR spokesman Thomas Kyle-Milward said Tuesday that the agency also got approval to hire 14 additional seasonal firefighters. DNR is also considering using private firefighting vendors.

“It’s going to be sort of a patchwork approach,” Kyle-Milward said. “Those solutions probably won’t be finalized until we get a little closer to the season’s start.”

While he couldn’t confirm whether additional resources would be placed at Camp Bonneville to offset some of the loss from the Larch center closing, Kyle-Milward said it remains an option.

County Councilor Sue Marshall asked during Tuesday’s meeting if having staff and resources at Camp Bonneville would be even more important now that the Larch Corrections Center is closed.

“I’m sure it’s part of the portfolio. It definitely does enhance it, for that rapid response,” said Rocky Houston, division manager for the county parks division. “Without having Larch Corrections, I’m sure this does mean more emphasis on that asset.”

Marshall said there have been concerns in the past about potential contamination from helicopter refueling or other DNR activities.

“There’s been no past spillage or any of type of mitigation that we had to do related to the helicopter being there,” said Erik Harrison, special properties manager for the county. “In the intergovernmental agreement, we do have liabilities set at $1 million for ‘X’ amount of liability (per occurrence) — if something was to happen.”

Houston said the fuel truck is parked in a gravel parking lot, not on grass or other environmentally sensitive areas.

On the web