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Originally published April 28, 2005 at 12:00 AM | Page modified April 28, 2005 at 12:35 AM

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Governors agree to share resources to fight wildfires

Northwest governors agreed yesterday to share resources in battling what are projected to be huge wildfires in the drought-stricken region...

The Associated Press

SPOKANE — Northwest governors agreed yesterday to share resources in battling what are projected to be huge wildfires in the drought-stricken region this year.

The governors, meeting here, also said they would send a letter to federal officials asking that they be allowed to attack wildfires in the region when they are small, regardless of whether the blazes are on state or federal lands.

"We're going to ask the federal government to allow us to respond immediately, so we do not have issues of jurisdiction," said Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who was flanked at a news conference by Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire, Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski and Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne.

"We want first-strike capability," Schweitzer said. "It might be a state response on federal land."

Gregoire noted that Washington already has had 55 wildfires this season, although they have been suppressed before they could get large enough to do much damage.

Kempthorne, the lone Republican in the group, several years ago started the custom of having Northwest governors meet to discuss common issues.

At the afternoon meeting, the governors also discussed the drought that covers the region, issues related to the Columbia River system and salmon recovery, and economic development.

The governors seek to cooperate without worrying about state lines or party lines, Kempthorne said.

Kulongoski noted that a federal court hearing in Portland yesterday pitted a coalition of environmentalists, sports fishermen and tribes against the federal government over its operation of dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers, which the coalition contends harm salmon.

That is an issue that affects all four states, he said.

The governors also talked about sharing National Guard troops and aircraft during the wildfire season.

Schweitzer noted that half of Montana's National Guard members and many of their aircraft are in Iraq.

The governors also would like the federal government to resolve questions quickly about the airworthiness of the large fire-retardant bombers that were grounded last year for safety reasons. Kempthorne said they would send a joint letter asking the government to resolve the safety questions.

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