The California Senate has put forward a budget that invests heavily in keeping neighbors and communities safe from wildfire in every corner of California, according to Democratic Sen. Mike McGuire. Big spending was dedicated to enhancing firefighting resources, preparing for emergencies and protecting communities from the rising threats of wildfires has been included in the state budget
McGuire, whose North Coast District was inundated with deadly and devastating wildfires for four consecutive years, helped lead the effort in the Senate to ensure California is preparing for what he says is the reality that the Golden State is now facing a year-round fire season. Hundreds of millions of dollars for Cal Fire engines, boots on the ground, airplanes and helicopters were included in the state budget, which was approved on June 13.
McGuire said with wild land fires getting worse in size and scope, California has made significant progress during the past five years with efforts to fortify the emergency response infrastructure. He highlighted the investment in seven new C-130 Air Tankers, hundreds of millions in funding for vegetation management and removal, and “desperately needed” investments in the State Office of Emergency Services.
“California is taking action to fight fire season head-on,” McGuire said. “With the summer weather heating up, it’s just one more reminder that we have to do everything in our power to be prepared for another tough fire season.”
The budget breakdown includes: $13 million for C-130s that will be transitioned from the federal government starting in 2020; $40 million for 13 new fire engines and 131 additional staff positions for those engines (bringing Cal Fire’s fleet to 356 fire engines); $15 million to fire response increase staffing, including 34 heavy equipment operators to allow for round-the-clock bulldozer operations.
The budget also includes $97 million for the purchase of four additional Blackhawk helicopters, which are used when fighting wildland fires. Acquiring these Blackhawks is part of the ongoing effort to replace the twelve Vietnam-era helicopters that are currently in use across the state. The first two Blackhawk firefighting helicopters will be deployed this year.
Another $6 million will be dedicated to expand health and wellness programs for firefighters which involve screenings for health conditions common to firefighters, such as heart disease and certain types of cancer. The funding will also increase staffing for Cal Fire’s Employee Support Services program that provides mental health support to Cal Fire employees and family members. And $200 million to continue the state’s commitments to significantly reduce wildland fire fuel including vegetation management and removal of tens of thousands of dead and dying trees.
The California Office of Emergency Services was slated for for $125 million, with $75 million to improve resiliency of the state’s critical infrastructure in response to utility companies increased intent to use Public Safety Power Shutdowns, and to provide assistance to communities as specific urgent needs are identified. As a result of the anticipated shutdowns, affected areas may be without power for several hours, days, and in some cases, over a week. McGuire said this will provide a flexible source of funding to facilitate immediate response to utility initiated power shutdowns.
$25 million was directed to prepositioning of existing Cal OES and local government firefighting resources that are part of the statewide mutual aid system with the goal of enhancing wildfire and disaster response readiness. Prepositioning occurs in areas of identified potential fire threat, which is determined through various means such as weather modeling, high winds, low humidity, high temperatures and dense fire load.
More than $28 million in increased funding for the California Disaster Assistance Act, which is used to repair, restore, or replace public property damaged or destroyed by a disaster, and to reimburse local governments for costs associated with certain emergency activities undertaken in response to a state of emergency. And more than $3 million to the California Department of Food and Agriculture for staffing up the California Animal Response Emergency System and catastrophic livestock disease prevention program.
“As we’ve seen in past disasters, one of the most critical forms of response to rural areas threatened by wildfires is livestock and large animals that need to be cared for, saved and fed during emergencies,” McGuire said. “This funding will establish teams that will coordinate and respond when there are threats to animal health during emergencies.”