SACRAMENTO COUNTY (CBS SF/AP) — Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday highlighted new firefighting equipment that would be part of his proposed $2 billion investment in wildfire and emergency preparedness.
“Clearly we recognize we need to step up our efforts here in the state of California and that’s what we began to do early this year,” Newsom said Monday.READ MORE: VTA Shooting: Additional Personnel Files On Gunman Reveal Missed Days At Work, Insubordination
California’s mountains and foothills are expected to see above-normal wildfire potential from June through August and possibly into the fall, which is the usual peak fire season, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center and the Southwest Coordination Center.
Newsom announced Monday he was doubling the funding for fighting wildfires from the $1 billion he proposed in January.
“It shows the urgency of the moment, it shows the urgency of our efforts as we once again prepare for wildfire season,” said Newsom.
Experts predict this fire season could be even worse than last year as the state faces extreme drought conditions.
“The fuels are really, really dry around the Bay Area and most of California and that’s because of the drought,” said San Jose State University Fire Weather Research Laboratory Director Craig Clements. “It’s only going to get worse throughout the summer.”
The concern of the potential trouble ahead reaches far beyond heavily forested communities.
“We have seen vegetation dry out, we can see the foothills very visibly and it is earlier this year than in years past,” said San Jose Fire Department Public Information Manager Erica Ray. “Leading into especially the Fourth of July holiday we’re really pleading with our community to refrain from using illegal fireworks.”
“Eight out of ten fires in the U.S. are human cause,” Clements said.
This year’s fires so far have burned nearly five times as much acreage as they did last year at this time. But the 24 square miles (62 square kilometers) scarred by about 2,600 fires this year is a small portion of last year’s totals of nearly 10,000 fires and an astronomical 6,653 square miles burned. The fires killed 33 people and burned more than 10,000 homes and other structures.
Last year’s epic fire season lasted so long that it slowed Cal Fire’s attempts to set its own fires — the prescribed burns that they want to make an increasing part of their long-term efforts. They’ve been able to deliberately burn about 17 square miles through April 30, down about 40% from last year.
Even a dry winter would have allowed for the prescribed burns, but officials got a late start due to the extreme fire activity the second half of last year, said Christine McMorrow, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
“Prescribed burns are a big part of our strategy,” said Newsom, who included $50 million for them in his proposed budget.
Cal Fire Chief Thom Porter called them “our best and most cost effective tool” for clearing both overgrown areas and invasive non-native plants. But he cautioned that “not every piece of California is ready for prescribed fire yet” with “a lot of areas where it’s not safe to put fire on the ground under any circumstances.”
Newsom has touted the proposed budget for disaster preparation as the largest in state history, calling it “the single largest investment in California’s history to combat and prepare for wildfires.”
In 2020, lightning strikes and record heat brought us the worst wildfire season in CA history.READ MORE: CHP Chase Following I-880 Shooting Leads To Major Fremont Crash; Suspect Arrested
Climate change is here.
We’re investing record amounts to prepare CA.
More black hawks.
More air tankers.
And more projects to make our state more resilient. pic.twitter.com/VfLrWn4ybP
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) May 24, 2021
The budget proposal that lawmakers will consider before June 15 includes more than $48 million to phase in a dozen new Cal Fire Fire Hawk helicopters and seven large C-130 air tankers like those Newsom highlighted at a Sacramento-area firefighting airbase Monday. It has nearly $34 million to replace two state helicopter bases and create a new emergency operations center in Southern California.
More than $182 million would go for an additional 33 fire crews as the state makes up in part for a dwindling number of inmate firefighters amid earlier releases because of the coronavirus pandemic and years of easing criminal sentencing laws. The money includes hiring an additional 1.399 seasonal firefighters. That will bring the total of seasonal firefighters to nearly 4,000, augmenting nearly 3,400 permanent firefighters, Cal Fire said.
Lawmakers this year already approved $536 million so the state could quickly start approving local contracts to build fuel breaks near vulnerable communities or manage forestlands, with more money going toward efforts to make homes less likely to burn.
The rest is in the budget for the fiscal year starting July 1, although Porter said most of the firefighters already have been hired.
The proposal would also fund forest management and the creation of fire breaks.
Newsom said the increased budget would also allow for the establishment of a state wildfire headquarters.
“We’re also looking to build out the equivalent of the National Hurricane Center here for the state of California,” said Newsom. “That’s also part of our May revised budget. This will allow us a center to bring all of our emergency personnel and key players under one roof.”
The $2 billion plan must first be approved by the state legislature.MORE NEWS: A's Unable To Hold On To Lead In 7th, Fall To Rangers
© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. KPIX 5 reporter Maria Medina and The Associated Press contributed to this report.