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Public Invited To Wildfire Meeting Tonight

Facing more wildfires each year and having less money to fight them, state Department of Natural Resources officials are thinking of revamping their wildfire protection program.

A private firm hired by the state last year to review the program will be in Spokane tonight to ask area residents what they think should be done.

TriData, a consulting firm based in Virginia, also will ask fire districts, local governments, federal fire agencies and private businesses for opinions.

The meeting will run from 7-9 p.m. in the Spokane County Agricultural Center, 222 N. Havana.

The company is being paid $150,000 to conduct the study.

DNR reports the annual number of wildfires and acres burned in Washington have increased dramatically in the past 20 years.

Between 1975 and 1984, nearly 870 fires burned about 5,500 acres across the state each year, according to figures provided by DNR.

Between 1985 and 1994, those numbers increased to 1,145 fires and more than 20,000 acres charred annually.

The cost of fighting those fires also has increased, state officials say.

During 1994, state taxpayers and forest landowners spent nearly $24 million to fight wildfires on 80,000 acres, DNR officials said.

At the same time, DNR administrators cut their firefighting staff - from 284 people in 1980 to 216 in 1996 - in response to budget changes.

, DataTimes