BERKELEY – California Governor Gavin Newsom was joined Tuesday by Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, as well as state and local fire officials and first responders, to discuss how the state and local communities are working together to address the threat of catastrophic wildfires.
Climate change has created a new wildfire reality in California, and areas where wildland and urban development meet are increasingly at risk of catastrophic wildfires.
“Every Californian has skin in the game when it comes to reducing wildfire risk,” Newsom said. “This isn’t ‘just’ a rural or suburban problem. Dense urban areas pose some of the highest risks for destruction and loss of life from wildfires, and climate change is putting urban communities at even greater risk.”
Tuesday’s event took place near the ignition point of one the deadliest wildfires in state history, the 1991 Oakland Hills Fire, which resulted in 25 fatalities and destroyed 3,469 homes and apartment units.
More than 25 million acres of California wildlands are now classified as under very high or extreme fire threat. And due to climate change, this high-risk area will likely only grow over time.
Today, more than 11 million people – more than a quarter of the state’s population – lives in high fire-risk areas, including the Wildland–Urban Interface. One in three homes is in the WUI. And more than 30 East Bay communities – the most populous sub-region of the Bay Area – are high-risk communities within the WUI.
Last month, Newsom issued a state of emergency to provide urgent and necessary waivers of administrative and regulatory requirements for 35 fuels management projects, to allow for action to be taken in the next 12 months and to protect over 200 of California’s most wildfire-vulnerable communities through the rapid deployment of forest management resources.
These 35 priority projects were identified by CAL FIRE to protect vulnerable populations that are particularly at risk during natural disasters. Paired with traditional natural risk factors, this data paints a more accurate assessment of the real human risk and can help guide preventative action to help prevent loss of life – especially for vulnerable groups.
The event took place less than a mile from the North Orinda Fuel Break – one of the priority fuel reduction projects the Governor approved on an expedited basis to help reduce the public safety risk from wildfire.
Newsom issued an executive order on his first full day in office directing CAL FIRE, in consultation with other state agencies and departments, to recommend immediate, medium- and long-term actions to help prevent destructive wildfires.
The governor has proposed additional investments in emergency readiness, response and recovery, including $200 million General Fund to augment CAL FIRE’s firefighting capabilities, adding 13 additional year-round engines, replacing Vietnam War-era helicopters, deploying new large air tankers and investing in technology and data analytics that will support CAL FIRE’s incident command in developing more effective initial fire suppression strategies.
The budget continues $25 million General Fund ongoing for pre-positioning local government fire engines to support the state’s critical mutual aid system. It also includes $60 million General Fund one-time to jump-start upgrades to the 911 system and provides a $214 million investment in forest management to increase fire prevention and complete additional fuel reduction projects.
Newsom has also redeployed California National Guard personnel to support CAL FIRE in fire prevention and suppression efforts and published guidelines for emergency evacuations over three months ahead of schedule.
California has launched a $50 million California for All Emergency Preparedness Campaign to build resiliency among vulnerable populations at the highest risk for natural disasters. The campaign – a joint initiative between Cal Volunteers and the governor’s Office of Emergency Services – provides funding to local communities to help build resiliency among the most vulnerable Californians through culturally and linguistically competent support for disaster preparedness. Information on how to apply for funds can be found here.
The governor earlier this month released the findings of his strike force charged with examining California’s catastrophic wildfires, climate change and our energy future. The strike force’s report sets out significant wildfire mitigation and resiliency efforts the state must take; renews our commitment to clean energy; and outlines actions to hold the state’s utilities accountable, as well as recommended changes to stabilize California’s utilities to meet the energy needs of customers and the economy.
In the last four years, California has experienced ten of the most destructive wildfires and four of the deadliest wildfires in the state’s history. In 2018, more than 1,846,000 acres burned, over 22,000 structures were destroyed and sadly, 100 lives were lost. The citizens of California must all do their part to help protect our natural resources.