California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Thursday a revised budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year, due to the economic crises amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The revision provides updates of the revenues, expenditures and reserve estimates based on the latest economic changes.
“The world has changed dramatically since I proposed my budget in January,” Newsom said in the revision statement. “A global health crisis has triggered a global financial crisis — threatening both lives and livelihoods across the nation and world.”
According to the Governor’s revised May budget, the Natural Resources Agency is on the frontlines of battling wildfires, along with navigating droughts and floods, and is prioritizing the state’s limited resources on emergency preparedness and protecting the public from climate risks.
From January to May 10 last year we had 675 wildfires.
From January to May 10 this year we’ve had 1,130 wildfires.
A 60% increase.
As we continue to fight #COVID19 we can’t pull back on priorities that keep us safe. We will continue invest, prepare & fight wildfires across CA.
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) May 13, 2020
Newsom stated recent forecasts indicate that 2020 is likely to be an active wildfire year, due to the below average precipitation, snowpack and fuel moisture levels.
The May revision reflects $127 million for the Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) to enhance the state’s emergency preparedness and response capabilities.
Among many departments, Newsom stated he proposes to withdraw $101.8 million, $26.8 million of the General Fund, as the state is not in a fiscal position to expand programs given the drastic budget impacts of COVID-19 Recession. The money will go towards Cal OES and the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) for implementation of the home hardening pilot grant program.
Despite the significant budget shortfall, the new revision reflects an additional $90 million General Fund to further enhance CAL FIRE’s fire protection capabilities for the 2020 season and years to come.
Included in this, CAL FIRE Relief Staffing and Early Ramp-Up of 2020 Fire Season Surge Capacity will maintain $85.6 million of the general fund for permanent firefighting positions to provide CAL FIRE with operational flexibility throughout the peak fire season and beyond as fire conditions progress.
These resources will also serve as an immediate resource pool to be deployed, based on fire risk, build CAL FIRE’s surge capacity by staffing additional engines during the late fall, winter and early spring, and add a fourth firefighter on a portion of engines.
The remaining $4.4 million will go towards the Innovation Procurement Sprint, which will enable CAL FIRE to implement the newly procured pioneering wildfire prediction and modeling technology.
From January to May 10, the state has had 1,130 wildfires, according to a tweet from Newsom. This is a 60 percent increase from the same time last year.
“As we continue to fight COVID-19 we can’t pull back on priorities that keep us safe,” Newsom tweeted. “We will continue to invest, prepare, and fight wildfires across California.”
In San Luis Obispo County, there has been a new fire just about every day, according to CAL FIRE SLO Assistant Chief Josh Taylor.
The fire season began in February but was fairly mild in March due to the rainfall. The most prominent fire so far has been the Huasna Fire which was a grass fire that burned a remote area east of Arroyo Grande and reached nearly 50 acres. CAL FIRE received aid from Paso Robles airbase, Los Padres National Forest, and Santa Barbara County Fire Department.
Currently the fire season in San Luis Obispo County will primarily occur as grass fires in the north and east, Taylor said, but as the summer approaches and temperatures increase, causing more dryness, south county will begin to take a hit.
CAL FIRE SLO began staffing their wildland state fire engine earlier than normal, with the typical date to begin in April. Right now, nine out of 12 engines have been staffed.
Regarding other contributing factors to California’s fire season, Newsom says his administration is also working to address concerns many may have regarding public safety power shutoffs (PSPS) in California.
Last fall, nearly one million PG&E customers experienced a PSPS.