California Governor Gavin Newsom led off his daily briefing Wednesday by saying, “We have to walk and chew gum at the same time.”
Obviously the current focus is on fighting COVID-19 but now also on mitigating and fighting fires as we move into wildfire season.
Especially in Southern California, wildfires aren’t a question of if, but only a question of when.
At the briefing Cal Fire Chief Thom Porter stated that from January to May 10 of this year we’ve already had 1,100 wildfires in the state.
As Newsom said, “The hots are getting hotter, the drys are getting dryer.” This new reality means a stronger focus on wildfire planning and prevention – even in the midst of the pandemic.
Chief Porter emphasized three important factors: preparedness, prevention and response.
He stressed residents need to prepare now in order to protect life and property. “Everyone in California has a part in this,” he said.
Preparedness starts with creating defensible space around your home and hardening your structure with ember-resistant material to make it impervious to fire. He also said everyone should reach out to neighbors, elderly friends and family members to help them prepare. A simple check list is available at readyforwildfire.org.
Preparedness steps include creating a buffer between a building on your property and the grass, trees, shrubs, or any wildland area that surround it. Put together an emergency kit with a three-day supply of non-perishable food and water, prescriptions and medications, change of clothes, glasses, first aid kit, flashlights, keys, etc. Also have a family communication and evacuation plan.
Prevention includes keeping fires small and keeping them out of populated areas. “We need to be proactive this year,” said Porter, “to save lives and property.” To that end Newsom said the state has purchased new engines, hired 600 more personnel for Cal Fire, and are seeing the arrival of 12 newly purchased Blackhawk fire-fighting helicopters.
Proter said that Cal Fire is responsible for fires on and off federal lands and that they “lead that charge.” He added that fire fighting, however, is a “team sport” and requires cooperation of federal and local partners – and residents. “More than any other time we have more coordination because of the pandemic.”
Newsom said, “The fight is in front of us every fire season,” but added that “California is preparing for a particularly tough fire season as it continues its efforts to slow the spread of COVID 19.”