State prepares for wildfire season amid virus pandemic

California Connection

CAMERON PARK, Calif. (Nexstar) — While it’s put many parts of life on pause, the coronavirus isn’t stopping California’s wildfire season. 

State leaders said Wednesday that so far the state has fought more than 1,100 wildfires in 2020 — a 60% increase from this time last year.

“Response, prevention, and preparedness,” Cal Fire Chief Thom Porter said. “Very simply, those three things, every one of them, is being invested in.”

Despite a $53 billion budget deficit, Gov. Gavin Newsom is doubling down on funding boosts for Cal Fire. 

He affirmed on Wednesday his commitment to appropriate money for 450,000 acres in forest management, 600 additional firefighters, 26 new fire engines, four incident command units and 12 Black Hawk helicopters. 

“We’re not going to walk that back. It’s just too important in term so of our mutual aid and public safety,” Newsom said. 

While state leaders work to make sure COVID-19 doesn’t financially hinder the firefight, the virus will change how state emergency management handles future fire evacuations, possibly doing them even more ahead of time than usual.

In 2018, during the Mendocino Complex Fire, there was a norovirus outbreak at an evacuation center in Lake County. Later that year, during the Camp Fire, the same intestinal virus spread through a Chico evacuation center.

“We’re looking at possibly using hotel solutions where we have evacuees in single rooms versus congregating in a large dormitory or school gymnasium, and if they are congregating in a place like a gymnasium, looking at partitions, putting air cleaners, putting air purifiers in place,” California Office of Emergency Services Director Mark Ghilarducci said.

“If we keep fires small at the beginning, with these extra resources that we’re going to have, then we will protect the public and our firefighters from unnecessary exposure to smoke and the need to bring them together in congregational settings,” Porter said.

Cal Fire reminds people that everyone has a part to play in fire prevention. For some homeowners, that could mean using the extra time at home to trim trees and dead grass, making properties more fire safe.

Cal Fire cautions against letting this week’s rain give a false sense of security.

“That can dry within 12 hours of a 100-degree day. We need to prepare, always. We don’t want to preach the doom and gloom but we need to be prepared,” said Cal Fire Chief Mike Mohler. “Exercise that evacuation plan with your family. This is the time to sit down as a group.” 

How much all of this will cost, what other cuts might be made and how it could affect taxpayers, will be laid out Thursday when Gov. Newsom reveals the May revise of his budget proposal.

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