CA Beefs Up Resources as Wildfire Season Enters 'Peak'

KCBS Radio Afternoon News
July 09, 2020 - 1:11 pm

    While the coronavirus pandemic has presented unprecedented budget and physical spacing challenges, Gov. Gavin Newsom and various state agency leaders have announced an aggressive plan to combat an already above-average fire season in the state.

    "We are trying to be as prepared and vigilant as possible, we’re not trying to react," Gov. Newsom said in a Thursday media briefing.

    Gov. Newsom announced that funds have been directed to CAL FIRE for new Blackhawk helicopters and firefighting technology. The new budget also provides for finances to bring on 172 full-time firefighters across the state.

    In an effort to offset many inmate crews unable to assist because of coronavirus concerns, CAL FIRE will bring on over 850 seasonal firefighters, along with six new crews at California Conservation Corps. They’ll be staffed at those levels until at least October.

    The state has seen over 4,000 wildfires as of July 5, a "significant increase" over the average 2,500 fires California typically sees by this time in the year. That's in addition to a number of confirmed arson fires. CAL FIRE Director Thom Porter urged Californians to consider the sobering reality that - even in the midst of a surging coronavirus pandemic - "we are in peak fire season" now.

    There are also changes on tap for the state’s wildfire evacuation shelters, including temperatures checks for evacuees, mandatory masks, extra medical staff and packaged meals, as announced by Cal OES Director Mark Ghilarducci.

    "(The new protocols are) designed to ensure that if we’re going to be doing congregate sheltering, they will be segregated appropriately," Ghilarducci explained in describing how COVID-19 negative and positive evacuees would be kept in separate areas.

    He also said the agency is working with the University of California system, community colleges and county fairgrounds to utilize dormitories, if necessary.