California budget seeks more firefighters, fire protection

California Connection

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom wants to hire more state firefighters and make homes safer from devastating wildfires in the budget he will send to state lawmakers on Friday.

The 555 additional full-time firefighters would be hired over five years, his office told The Associated Press, augmenting the 4,800 current permanent firefighters by about 12%.

The state also hires about 2,400 seasonal firefighters during peak danger periods of increasingly dry conditions and devastating winds. Wildfire threats prompted power companies to impose debilitating widespread blackouts last year in an attempt to prevent their equipment from sparking blazes.

The money to make homes more resistant to wildfires through things like replacing wooden roofs and closing gaps where sparks can enter would be focused on low-income communities with high fire risk.

It’s a fraction of the $1 billion revolving fund that Democratic Assemblyman Jim Wood of Healdsburg had originally hoped to create to help rural homeowners. But Wood, whose Sonoma County community was threatened by a wind-whipped blaze last fall, earlier said he agreed with a pared down plan designed to aid entire communities instead of individual homeowners.

It’s part of what Newsom is touting as a $2 billion program to fight catastrophic wildfires and other disasters, including more than $600 million for flood control. Newsom sought $1 billion in additional spending in his first budget a year ago, though part of that went to help communities that had been hobbled by wildfires.

“California is doing more than ever before to combat wildfires,” the Democratic governor said in a statement.

Hiring more firefighters and an accompanying 122 additional support personnel will provide relief for firefighters suffering mental and physical fatigue, said Tim Edwards, president of the union representing state firefighters. It also means more fire engines can be used year-round, with California now seeing fires even in winter months.

“The fires of the past several years have kept firefighters on the line for weeks and sometimes months at a time,” Edwards said. Newsom is telling firefighters “that he understands the hardships created and wants to provide much needed relief.”

Newsom is seeking nearly $100 million to collect better information on the state’s topography and better predict wildfires, floods, tsunamis and landslides. It also would fund a new Wildfire Forecast and Threat Intelligence Integration Center and research on better firefighting equipment and ways to protect firefighters.

“They’re going to be game changers,” said Brian Rice, president of California Professional Firefighters, which represents career firefighters statewide. “That information is going to allow the command system to be more focused in their delivery and air support. It’s going to make the fire fight that much more strategic and the tactics will have that much more impact.”

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