(The Center Square) – Two Spokane-area lawmakers say they will propose legislation in Washington’s next session in 2024 to help victims rebuild after the devastating wildfires that swept through Spokane County in august.
Republican state Reps. Suzanne Schmidt and Mike Volz said many residents in their respective 4th and 6th legislative districts lost their homes and property because of the Gray and Oregon Road fires.
And many of the affected victims are now “losing hope as they realize that new state building regulations mean more time and more money to rebuild,” Schmidt and Volz said in a statement. Press release Wednesday.
In many cases, lawmakers said, insurance won’t cover the cost of replacing what victims lost because their policies are based on building codes effective in early 2023.
New regulations instituted later last year by the state building code board could potentially add “tens of thousands of dollars to the cost of rebuilding,” Volz said.
He and Schmidt are proposing a bill that would allow victims to rebuild under the codes in effect on January 1. If passed, the measure would apply to any property damaged by wildfires for building permits issued through June 20, 2025.
“I think providing relief to those who lost everything in the recent wildfires is the least we can do at the state level and I urge my colleagues across the aisle to support this comprehensive proposal. common sense and essential,” Volz said.
“Homeowners trying to rebuild need a certain level of certainty,” Schmidt said. “No one is really prepared for the kind of devastation we’ve seen around the communities of Elk and West Plains. But then again, no one is prepared for the devastation. After devastation.
“Finding out that you can’t afford to rebuild in a timely manner due to excessive new state regulations is a blow that fire victims cannot afford,” she said.
Volz and Schmidt say they are finalizing a bill and will have it ready when the 2024 legislative session opens Jan. 8 in Olympia. They also expect support from state Sens. Jeff Holy, R-Cheney, and Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley.
The Gray and Oregon Road fires both broke out on the hot, dry afternoon of August 18 and were sparked by strong westerly winds near the respective communities of Medical Lake and Elk, in the Spokane County.
The two raging fires burned more than 22,484 acres, forced entire towns to evacuate, destroyed more than 710 structures, including 366 homes, and claimed the lives of two men. Hundreds of firefighters from across the region were deployed and remained on scene until early September.
Earlier this month, three Washington state members of Congress joined Gov. Jay Inslee in urging the Biden administration to support a bill. “major disaster declaration” for affected areas.
A declaration by the president can trigger a wide range of federal aid programs for individuals and public infrastructure, including funds for emergency and permanent work. Several steps are involved at the national and local level to qualify.
Assistance for wildfire survivors has been requested through the Federal Emergency Management Agency Individual Assistance Program. If approved, the program would provide cash and direct services to eligible individuals and households who have uninsured or underinsured expenses and serious needs.
The request was supported by U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane and U.S. Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell.