Wildfire Worries in California: Recent Actions to Address the Crisis

With bone-dry conditions across the state, the talk among Californians is wildfire. How many fires will burn this year? Will 2021 top the four million acres that burned last year?  Will my community be hit next? If any of my fellow Californians didn’t know “fire season” is now year-round, early April’s Spring Fire in the Angeles National Forest is here to remind them. With over 10,000 homes and structures burned last year, predictions from scientists and fire experts is that 2021 may be just as bad, or worse. People here are worried.

Seemingly, our politicians are too.  Earlier this month, Governor Newsom signed an early spending bill with just over a half a billion dollars solely for mitigation.  That bill, The Wildfire Prevention and Resiliency Early Action Plan, will spend $238 million on fuel reduction and other landscape resiliency projects, $198 million on wildfire fuel breaks, $27 million on community hardening, and $25 million to strengthen the state’s forestry sector. An estimated 15 million wildland acres in California are in need of some type of restoration treatment to reduce wildfire risk, making this funding sorely needed. But, as even the Governor’s February 5 2021-2022 wildfire resilience proposal—the framework for Tuesday’s spending bill—acknowledges, these funds will “address only a small share of estimated need.”

With at least three dozen wildfire bills in the legislature, lawmakers are debating proposals to move the needle out of the red zone.  For example, at the end of the month, the Senate Committee on Housing will look at several bills intended to reduce risk now and in the future. One of those, SB 63, aims to expand Cal Fire’s capacity to assess properties and enforce the state’s defensible space requirements.  Another, SB 12, steps-up the state’s land use planning requirements for wildfire. That bill requires local governments to develop comprehensive retrofit strategies that will reduce the community’s wildfire risk.

While wildfire is a top topic in Sacramento, lawmakers are also dealing with the pandemic and the state’s other perennial crisis—affordable housing.  Despite these other pressing issues, the state does not have time to wait for action on all five Outthink Wildfire™ fronts: retrofits, use of codes and standards, increasing local fire department capacity, land management needs, and public education. Unfortunately, California cannot dig out of this crisis over the course of one state budgetary cycle, but it can undertake comprehensive action that will turn the tide.

Learn more about Outthink Wildfire and its key action policies at nfpa.org/wildfirepolicy

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Ray Bizal
Ray Bizal
NFPA Regional Operations Director

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