(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) gave a speech on the Senate floor discussing the devastating wildfires that are currently burning in Central and Eastern Washington state. She outlined the need for continued federal aid to assist local communities. Sen. Murray also shared the story of two men in Pateros, Washington who saved a local school from a fast-approaching fire.
“In addition to our thoughts and our prayers, we need to continue working to ensure they have all the federal resources they need,” Senator Murray said. “I’m thrilled that the Senate supplemental funding bill released yesterday includes $615 million for firefighting efforts in Western states, money I requested with Senator Cantwell and 10 of our other colleagues…but there’s more work to be done. We have to get that funding passed through the Senate and the House and to the President’s desk right away. I’m also very pleased that early yesterday morning, the President made an emergency declaration that will help these communities fight the wildfires, and I will continue working with local officials and federal officials all the way up to the President to ensure these communities get what they need.”
Full text of Senator Murray’s remarks, as prepared:
“Madam President, I’d like to take a few minutes today to discuss the absolutely devastating wildfires that are currently burning through farms, communities, and public lands in my home state of Washington.
“Madam President, as a lifelong resident of Washington state and the Pacific Northwest, I’ve always been aware of the annual risks and dangers that wildfires pose to our region.
“Each summer, a combination of rising temperatures, months of dry weather, and our state’s abundance of forests and fields have resulted in wildfires capable of threatening homes and businesses across our state.
“And each summer, we’ve worked to become better and better prepared to protect our communities.
“But Madam President, one wildfire burning this year is the single largest we’ve ever seen in Washington state.
“Since last Tuesday, massive wildfires covering hundreds of thousands of acres have ravaged farmlands and agricultural areas, cherished public lands, and most importantly, communities throughout Chelan County, Okanogan County, and others across Eastern Washington.
“Madam President, I’m talking about a massive wave of flames that has burned an area four times the size of Seattle, our state’s largest city.
“Even for those of us who have lived our entire lives with the reality of wildfires – this is unprecedented.
“So Madam President, while I’m here in what we call ‘the other Washington’ today, my heart, my thoughts, and my prayers, are in Central and Eastern Washington.
“Even here, on the Senate floor, I can’t help but think of the firefighters and first responders who are neglecting sleep and rest to fight to protect their communities.
“And most of all, I can’t stop thinking about the families who have lost their homes and all of their possessions to this horrific natural disaster.
“But Madam President, if there’s one thing I know about Washington state, it’s that we don’t turn away from hard times or hard work.
“Over the last several weeks, I’ve heard from some of our local leaders in the communities facing these fires, like Sheriff Frank Rogers in Okanogan County, Sheriff Brian Burnett in Chelan County, and Mayor Libby Harrison in the small town of Pateros, where dozens of homes, including hers, have been lost to the fire.
“Each one of them told me that while their communities are facing hard times, nobody is giving up.
“They’ve been doing everything they can to protect each and every person in their rural communities, and so far, they’ve been able to do that.
“And Madam President, I’d like to close by sharing just one story that speaks to what’s happening in my home state right now.
“As I mentioned, the small town of Pateros has been hit as hard as any other this month.
“They haven’t lost any lives, but they’ve lost more than 100 homes and buildings throughout their community.
“But one building they didn’t lose is their school, which has also come to serve as a central staging area as these fires rage on.
“Madam President, just like in many other smaller communities, the school in Pateros serves kids of all ages – it’s K through 12.
“And last week, the fire came within just a few feet of the school.
“Firefighters and first responders were working elsewhere, so the school easily could have burned down.
“Until a local man named Augustine Morales decided to do something about it.
“He and a friend used hoses on the backs of their own trucks to fight back the fire and save their children’s school.
“Augustine was interviewed by a local TV station, and I’d like to quote what he said here:
‘Everything was going through my mind because I have my kids and I have to take care of my kids and I [was] just thinking…if you die I don't know what's going to happen,’
“Madam President, that’s what so many people just like Augustine are facing right now across Central and Eastern Washington.
“But Madam President, they won’t be giving up.
“That’s why, in addition to our thoughts and our prayers, we need to continue working to ensure they have all the federal resources they need.
“I’m thrilled that the Senate supplemental funding bill released yesterday includes $615 million for firefighting efforts in Western states – money I requested with Senator Cantwell and 10 of our other colleagues…but there’s more work to be done.
“We have to get that funding passed through the Senate and the House and to the President’s desk right away.
“I’m also very pleased that early yesterday morning, the President made an emergency declaration that will help these communities fight the wildfires, and I will continue working with local officials and federal officials all the way up to the President to ensure these communities get what they need.
“Thank you, Madam President, I yield the floor.”