MIDDLETOWN (KPIX/AP) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom will allow state fire officials to bypass some environmental regulations to clear dead trees and other vegetation ahead of the next wildfire season.
Even in the shadow of Paradise, California, Middletown may have been the right setting for the announcement.
This community was the scene of the 2015 Valley Fire.
Drive towards Lower Lake and the road winds through the aftermath of the Clayton Fire, then the Jerusalem, Rocky and Pawnee fires. Last year brought the River and Ranch Fires that made up the Mendocino Complex, the largest fire in state history. By one estimate, 60 percent of this county has burned since 2012.
That is why the governor was here on Friday for an emergency announcement made in hopes of preventing the next wildfire.
“We lost five human beings here a few years back, this community is still trying to recover,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said, standing with a crowd of local officials and recovery workers. “We need to step up our game. Dare I say it, get our act together.”
With that, Gov. Newsom declared what might be called a preemptive wildfire state of emergency. It’s a move designed to mobilize resources ahead of the upcoming fire season, with a focus on the places and people thought to be in the most danger.
“That wildland-urban interface where 2.2 million homes reside,” Newsom explained. “And being very strategic about communities that are most vulnerable.”
Specifically, Cal Fire is being asked to accelerate its plans for risk mitigation, fire breaks and prescribed burns across 94,000 acres — 35 specific areas deemed most at risk to catastrophic fire. “We probably have it somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 that we believe is very important throughout the state,” said Cal Fire Director Thom Porter. “And these 35 are the most important of those.”
To make those 35 projects happen quickly, the governor is waiving some environmental rules. He says jobs that could have taken two years can hopefully be completed within the next two months.
“We can fast track CEQA for arenas and football stadiums,” said the governor. “We certainly should be able to do so to save peoples lives.”
There was some talk of politics, specifically California’s strained relationship with the White House on these matters. The governor played that down saying California is facing a tremendous challenge and, at some point, it will need the help and cooperation of the federal government.
© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report