Spokane firefighters hoping to use goats for wildfire prevention as soon as July

SPOKANE, Wash. — With warm temperatures comes the anticipation of wildfire season for firefighters. They’re training differently because of the pandemic. One four-legged friend could be lending them a hoof.

Spokane Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer is looking to use goats to help prevent wildfires.

“This goat and a bunch of his buddies, a bunch of his family members will be able to reduce the fuels in areas where fire could be easily moved from one area to another and endanger homes,” Schaeffer said.

The goats would eat weeds that are bad for the environment and wildfire season. Schaeffer has teamed up with Spokane City Councilwoman Lori Kinnear to make this happen. Proposals from licensed goat herders with land management experience have been sent in.

On Thursday, a committee with Kinnear’s office and someone from the city parks department will look them over. They’re hoping to spend about $15,000 between the three parks the goats would be eating at. Those parks include Hangman Creek, Minnehaha and Meadowglen.

Schaeffer explained that the cost of one goat is the fraction of one firefighter.

“We have to look for different solutions because doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result simply doesn’t work,” he said.

If the committee decides on a proposal, a special budget meeting would need to be scheduled. Ideally, they want to have the goats chomping away by July.

As that option is worked out, firefighters are gearing up for wildfire season.

“The fuels will be prime here in about two weeks and we’re expected to have a very busy and impactful wildfire season,” Schaeffer explained.

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, most of Washington will be at an increased risk for potential fires in July.

Last year, the Spokane Fire Department responded to 151 brush fires. As of June 11, 2020, they’re at 44.

Firefighters have been getting ready for this, but training hasn’t been the same due to the pandemic.

“Unfortunately we’re limited in the numbers of firefighters that we can bring together, so we’ve had to modify our training plan to only have two or three companies at a time here at our training center,” Schaeffer explained.

During that time they prepare equipment, update safety regulations and meet mandatory wildfire points before the season starts.

80 firefighters out of 400 in the department have special qualifications to be sent outside of Spokane and into surrounding areas to fight fires.

On the front lines of the fire, they’ll be more people than normal. Those battling the fires will be in groups. Schaeffer said they’ll be with each other through the entire season to limit the potential spread of COVID-19.

“We’re not going to be mixing crews as we’ve done in the past, which may require more resources,” Schaeffer said. “The pandemic is mostly going to impact our ability to disperse those resources from the base camps and run our base camps.”

To create social distancing, Schaeffer said they’ll build more base camps — places where firefighters sleep during overnight fires — and space them out more.

So what can you do to help them out?

“Making sure you have at least 30 feet around your home what we call green space, or safe space,” Schaeffer explained.

He also said to have an evacuation plan ready, prepare at least three days of supplies and getting your information from accurate sources.

“With the community’s help especially that we’ll be able to keep the consequences of that to a minimum,” Schaeffer said.

If you have questions about protecting your home, call your local fire department or visit the National Fire Protection Association’s website.

READ: Gov. Inslee issues statewide proclamation requiring Washington residents to wear masks

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