A pair of bills signed into law today by Gov. Jay Inslee focus on preventing wildfires near electric utilities and increasing firefighter safety.

Senate Bill 5305, sponsored by Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim), directs the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to create a task force to identify and recommend better methods for preventing wildfires in the vicinity of electric utilities. Several such fires last year in California cost dozens of lives, destroyed thousands of homes, and threatened the stability of investor-owned utilities and power rates.

Utility-linked fires are responsible for approximately $30 billion in damages over the past two years in California, where utilities have been criticized for failing to trim trees along power lines and take other actions to reduce the potential for wildfires.

“Adopting best practices here in Washington could enable us to avoid the kinds of fires that ravaged California,” Van De Wege said. “We’re already seeing wildfires that are more severe and more frequent, especially in Western Washington. Every fire we prevent reduces the threat to lives, property and money.”

Van De Wege’s bill directs the task force to focus on ways to improve communications protocols, management of trees and other vegetation around utilities, and wildfire investigations. DNR would be required to submit a preliminary report to the Legislature by Dec. 1, 2019, and a final report by Dec. 1, 2020.

The other bill, SB 5175, which Van De Wege cosponsored, directs the state Department of Labor & Industries to establish best practices to improve firefighter safety and health. The best practices will focus on a proactive health and safety risk management system, developed jointly by L&I and private employers, to reduce firefighters’ exposure to carcinogens and risk of injuries and illnesses.

Employers of firefighters who implement the best practices might qualify for discounts in premiums, based on collaborative decision-making between L&I, private employers, and firefighters.