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California Pledges $536 Million to Fight Wildfires

Climate
California Pledges $536 Million to Fight Wildfires
A helicopter drops water on burning vegetation as the Bond Fire burns in Silverado, California on Dec. 3, 2020. Mark Rightmire / MediaNews Group / Orange County Register via Getty Images

2020 was the largest wildfire season in California's modern history, according to state agency Cal Fire. And, as the climate crisis continues to increase fire risk, there are concerns that 2021 could be just as devastating.


To adapt to this new normal, California leaders Thursday announced a more-than half a billion dollar plan to prevent and prepare for wildfires.

"The hots are getting hotter. The dries are getting drier. There's a new reality," California Gov. Gavin Newsom said as he announced the plan, as The Mercury News reported. "If you don't believe in climate change, if you don't believe in science, you believe your own damn eyes. Something is happening as it relates to the issue of climate that's exacerbating conditions and making the challenge of wildfire suppression and prevention that much more ominous."

The $536 million Wildfire Prevention and Resiliency package earmarks $350 million for forest management, including vegetation thinning, as well as $25 million to help homeowners pay for prevention measures on their properties, The Guardian reported. Newsom also touted the importance of adapting controlled burning techniques that were practiced for centuries by the state's first inhabitants. These smaller, necessary fires were suppressed by European settlers, contributing to the buildup of dried vegetation that has fueled historic blazes in recent years.

The new measure is an arrangement with California state lawmakers and has been introduced in both the House and Senate, according to The Mercury News. It is expected to pass Monday and be signed by Newsom next Tuesday. It builds on Newsom's pledge last week to hire around 1,400 new firefighters.

"For every dollar we spend on wildfire prevention, our state saves $6 to $7 in damage. But it's not just about saving money – this is about saving Californians' lives, their homes, and their livelihoods," Senate President Pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego) said in a statement. "We've already had a wildfire break out in the San Gabriel mountains this month, and we're heading into a summer of hot, dry weather with another drought upon us."

Indeed, San Francisco is in the midst of its second driest two-year stretch in recorded history, according to The Mercury News. The state's rainy season this winter was the third driest on record and the snowpack of the Sierra Nevada mountains was just 59 percent of its historic average as of April 1.

This leads experts to predict another devastating fire season. California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot warned reporters thursday that summer of 2021 promised "more of the same," as NBC News reported.

"The science is clear: Warming winter temperatures and warming summer temperatures are creating more dangerous and challenging wildfire conditions," he said. "Clearly much more needs to be done on a proactive, upfront basis to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire."

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