Northwest region management teams discuss past and future fire s - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Northwest region management teams discuss past and future fire seasons

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WASHINGTON - Last year was a bad year for wildfires along the west coast - far worse than firefighters expected.

Some of the biggest fires started in early September, when the wildfire season usually starts winding down. This included several fires that ravaged California well into October.

In our area, the Norse Peak and Eagle Creek Fires were two of the most devastating of 2017. Those fires also made thick smoke that just laid on top of us for months.

600 members from the northwest region's 10 inter-agency incident management teams are in Yakima for the next three days to get ready for the 2018 fire season. It includes teams from Alaska, Oregon, the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, and the Department of Natural Resources.

Earlier this afternoon, Washington State Commissioner of Public Lands, Hilary Franz said 2017 was a significant fire season. There were more than 3,000 fires that burned about 1.2 million acres, and to put those fires out cost the state more than $100,000,000.

Now the concern is not only about fires that will spark this year, but in years to come.

"My belief is given the conditions of our fires, given the conditions of our landscapes and given the limited resources and capacity that we have - not just at the state level but the local and federal level - we can no longer think about us fighting fires alone as one agency," Franz said. "Instead we need to create a 20-year wildfire plan that has all of our agencies - local, state and federal - all working together collectively. Developing a plan together and then implementing that plan."

Incident management teams don't fight the actual fire. They address the demands and complexity of them. One main focus of this year's meetings is the safety and physical and mental health of firefighters who spend long days, weeks, and sometimes even months at a wildfire.

According to a press release from the Department of Natural Resources: "USFS National Aviation Director Sawna Lagarza will speak to emotional health within stressful occupations, nationally renowned psychologist Christen Kishel will address emotional resilience, Northwest Coordination Group Training Committee leaders Mike Gomez and Renee Beans will highlight national training changes, and Dr. Brett Butler will share the latest findings on wildfire safety zones and escape routes."