This year, devastation from California’s wildfires is at record levels of destruction - about 3.4 million acres already burned! We have some of the toughest environmental standards in the nation, but our success in reducing greenhouse gas emissions is wiped out by tons of carbon dioxide spewed into the atmosphere by these fires.
The Legislature recently passed legislation to help prevent wildfires and deal with their aftermath. Two years ago, I supported a bi-partisan plan with then Governor Jerry Brown to increase vegetation clearance funding, and to empower CalFire and the California Department of Forestry to strategically and scientifically thin forest overgrowth, while holding utility companies more accountable for keeping power lines safe. I also supported the Wildfire Fund to help people who lost their homes deal with the aftermath of wildfires.
But we must be more proactive to lessen the number and severity of wildfires. Over 40% of open land is owned by the Federal gov't. We need to push for aggressive vegetation management for government and private lands. Our fire and weather technology infrastructure will need an upgrade statewide so that we can better predict wildfires and their probable path, similar to what we have in our county and SDGE. We need more technology and equipment for local and state fire departments with modernized communications systems for better coordination between federal, state and local agencies to manage incidents under their jurisdictions and keep them and the public safe. County roadways need more vegetation clearance as vehicles cause about 25% of fires in high-risk zones. Obviously, there will be a cost for all this, but if we don’t take action, the brush, dead trees and overgrown forests will still be thinned – wildfires will do the job. Those costs are much higher.
As always, I continue to make wildfire prevention and management a top priority.