California Governor Gavin Newsom struck a deal with lawmakers Thursday to free up $ 536 million for wildfire prevention as the state faces increased drought and high fire risk which, according to experts, could be as catastrophic as the historic hells of last year.
The money would improve prevention in all parts of California and would pay for forest maintenance, defensible space, hardening of homes for rural residents, and vegetation management.
“As California faces another extremely dry year, it is critical that we get a head start on reducing our fire risk,” said Newsom, Pro Senate Speaker Tem Toni Atkins and the Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon in a joint statement.
In one tweeted statement, Atkins added that every dollar spent on prevention “saves $ 6-7 in damage.”
“But it’s more than just the money,” she said in the tweet. “It is about lives, houses and livelihoods.”
Last month, Newsom authorized more than $ 80 million in emergency funds to hire an additional 1,400 firefighters from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, to strengthen fuel management and forest fire response efforts. Newsom’s 2021 budget proposed $ 1 billion to support wildfires and forest management, according to the governor’s office.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot applauded the state’s firefighting efforts, but said more needed to be done as climate change continued to threaten the environmental perspectives.
“The science is clear: Warming winter temperatures and warming summer temperatures are creating more dangerous and difficult forest fire conditions,” he said. “It is clear that there is still much to be done on a proactive and initial basis to reduce the risk of catastrophic forest fires.”
Crowfoot added that he expects this summer to be “more of the same” as last year.
“We cannot insist that this summer is going to be difficult,” he said. “We are just coming out of our second consecutive dry winter.”
The wildfire prevention measures follow a catastrophic fire season last year that charred more than 4 million acres across the state, destroyed hundreds of structures and covered much of the forest. State of thick, dense smoke for several weeks.
The National Weather Service warned that 92% of California was experiencing drought conditions on Thursday. Severe drought conditions are particularly troublesome in southern California, which received below-average rains during the winter months.
According to the National Integrated Drought Information System, recent hot and dry weather has caused early and accelerated snowmelt across much of the west. More than 99% of the state falls into the abnormally dry or drought category, fueling concerns about what could happen when temperatures soar to triple digits like they did last year.
Last month, California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla and 21 members of Congress sent a letter to the Agriculture and Home Departments asking to upgrade their agencies to an entire firefighting workforce. year as fire seasons increasingly turn into fire years.
The letter calls on the two departments to reclassify more seasonal firefighters as permanent. Currently, most wildland firefighters only work during the traditional fire season, which has historically been around six months a year. Many of these firefighters are classified as forest technicians who do not receive the same salary and benefits as national and local firefighters.
“As California and the West continue to face historic and destructive wildfire seasons, it has become clear that we are entering a ‘new normal’ in which increasingly intense fires are wreaking havoc for a fire season most of the year, ”lawmakers said in the letter.