After the worst wildfire season ever in 2020, California is bracing for more destruction this year due to worsening drought conditions and above-normal temperatures.
“We had world record-breaking high temperatures in our own backyard in California… 130 degrees in our state,” Governor Gavin Newsom said Thursday as he launched a $536 million funding package to boost fire prevention projects.
The outlook is already ominous as 91% of the state is suffering from drought and has reported consecutive dry months since last October, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
“Even record investments in this space are not enough to deal with the magnitude of that reality,” Newsom said. “But yes, we need to do more on forest management and vegetation management.”
The new legislation will invest millions of dollars toward hiring additional fire personnel, buying mechanical equipment, building defensible spaces and developing vegetation-management projects that will control and slow down the fires, Newsom said.
“We can’t sugarcoat the fact that this summer is going to be challenging,” said Wade Crowfoot, California’s Natural Resources Secretary. “We are just getting out of our second consecutive dry winter and what we can expect this summer in wildfire conditions is more of the same from last summer.”
Last year, California’s wildfires consumed more than 4.2 million acres.
According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as CAL FIRE, the fire season across the West has been starting earlier and ending later each year. The length of the fire season is estimated to have increased by 75 days across the Sierras and seems to correspond with an increase in the extent of forest fires across the state.
Overall, California is budgeting more than $1 billion toward wildfire prevention and preparedness efforts, Newsom said.
Last week, state officials approved the allocation of more than $80 million in emergency funds to elevate forest management and wildfire response efforts. This funding will specifically promote 1,399 additional firefighters within CAL FIRE and will allow training of fire crews ahead of peak fire season, which occurs between July through October.
CAL FIRE says climate change is to blame for the increase in the wildfire season. “Warmer spring and summer temperatures, reduced snowpack, and earlier spring snowmelt create longer and more intense dry seasons that increase moisture stress on vegetation and make forests more susceptible to severe wildfire,” it says on its website.
California state officials are expected to review and approve details of the legislation early next week.
“Thank you to the California legislature for drawing these dollars down and getting us to a point where we can get these dollars to work at a record pace this state has not seen in the past,” Newsom added.