SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) — Overwhelmed and understaffed, fire officials admit they are struggling to keep up with the dozens of fires burning statewide.
In Western Marin County, the Woodward fire continued to rage out of control Thursday night.
Fire officials said it started in Point Reyes on Tuesday, and took two days to get tankers overhead.
“This is the first time, first day we’ve been able to get aircraft over the top of this fire,” said Jason Weber, the Marin County Fire Chief.
Officials said the sheer volume of fires is the biggest factor. Last year this time, there had been 4,007 fires in California. This year so far: 6,754 fires. That’s a 68% increase.
“I know communities are used to lots of resources and that’s not where we’re at today. We have to share the resources,” said Chief Sean Kavanaugh, the Cal Fire Incident Commander.
Cal Fire said they have have about 11,000 firefighters on the ground but they are missing hundreds of key soldiers in the war against the flames: inmates.
For more than 70 years, California’s prison system has trained inmates to work as hand crews fighting fires on the front lines while earning time off their sentences. Because of COVID-19, the CDCR has released thousands of prisoners this year.
Last year, there were 2,775 inmate firefighters in California. This year, there are 2,087. That’s a 25% decrease.
The National Guard and Conservation Corps will make up some of those shortfalls, Governor Gavin Newsom said Wednesday. Also, seasonal firefighters were budgeted to begin this summer.
“We announced 858 seasonal firefighters we wanted to bring in … 830 of those 858 have already been brought on,” Newsom said.
The governor has requested help from neighboring states but Nevada and Arizona are also fighting major fires of their own.