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News / Clark County News

DNR purchases Kalama fire station to serve as wildfire-fighting base after Larch closure

The station will serve as storage space for equipment previously housed at Larch

By Griffin Reilly, Columbian staff writer
Published: February 7, 2024, 8:07pm

The Washington State Board of Natural Resources approved the purchase of a 1.03-acre site 5 miles east of Kalama as a base for fighting wildfires in Southwest Washington.

The Department of Natural Resources previously leased the fire station from Cowlitz County Fire District 5. The site is already operational, the department announced Tuesday.

Courtney James, a DNR spokeswoman, said Wednesday the department hopes to have two permanent employees based out of the new station year-round, with up to eight more there during summer fire season.

Last fall, Southwest Washington lost local wildland firefighters with the closure of Larch Corrections Center, located in the Yacolt Burn State Forest. The Larch facility, in partnership with the Department of Natural Resources, had trained crews used in fighting wildfires across the state for more than six decades.

James said the Kalama site “would not supplement the loss of firefighters” in the region due to Larch’s closure. Rather, it will serve as a storage space for firefighting equipment and fire engines previously housed at Larch.

According to a department news release, the $355,000 acquisition is being funded with appropriations from House Bill 1168.

HB 1168, which was passed in 2021, established the Wildfire Response, Forest Restoration and Community Resilience Account to explicitly collect funds to “monitor, track, and implement certain wildfire preparedness, prevention and protection purposes.”

“This is a win for Southwest Washington and our firefighting efforts across the state,” Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz said in the news release. “I’m thrilled to see House Bill 1168 dollars hard at work supporting our neighbors and preparing our state for wildfires.”

Last summer, Franz expressed opposition to Larch’s closure, arguing it would put Southwest Washington’s ability to combat wildfires at risk. Between 2020 and mid-2023, Larch inmate fire crews served nearly 400 crew-days on active fires, according to a letter Franz wrote to the Department of Corrections in July.

Upon the announcement of the prison’s closure, the corrections department said DNR would use the fire offseason to reevaluate how to supplement the loss of Larch’s local crews.

“Having DNR’s presence and support for wildfire operations and prevention in this area has been of great value to our district and Southwest Washington,” Cowlitz County Fire District 5 Fire Chief Sammy Brown said in the news release. “We are excited to welcome them here on a more permanent basis and look forward to continued collaboration with the Department of Natural Resources. Interagency efforts will enhance our response to local wildland urban interface areas.”

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