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EDITORIAL: California Paying the Price for Wildfires

The state will need to come up with about $371 million of that money, and that’s on top of California’s existing wildfire budget.

(TNS) - Now that the smoke has cleared from California’s devastating wildfires of late last year, state agencies have had time to add up some of the financial damage.

In addition to the tragic loss of life and the devastating financial impact on the thousands of Californians who lost homes, businesses and agriculture, the state spent nearly $1.8 billion fighting fierce wildfires, it was reported early this month.

Much of that will be reiumbursed by federal agencies — which, rather than actually being anything like good news for the American people, will help create an almost unbearable budget burden on the United States Forest Service, which can spend on few other line items these days other than fighting Western fires.

Still, the state will need to come up with about $371 million of that money, and that’s on top of California’s existing wildfire budget, the Legislative Analyst’s Office told the state Senate Budget Committee.

Nearly $1.5 billion of that was spent fighting fires and their after-effects north of San Francisco Bay in October, the Associated Press reported. Those series of fires killed 44 people and destroyed 8,800 buildings, with an estimated $10 billion in insurance claims made since then.

The other $300 million was spent here in Southern California in December fighting the Thomas fire and some other smaller ones. Considering that we all recall how horrifying that was — the largest blaze in area in the state’s history — we can perhaps better picture just how much worse the North Bay fires were.

Given our drought-and-flood recent weather patterns, the higher temperatures brought on by global warming and the incursion of homes and businesses into formerly wild lands, rational Californians know that we are going to have spend more on firefighting for the rest of current generations’ lives.

Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed some small and helpful additions — spending $35 million in next year’s budget to make up for lost sales, property and hotel tax revenue for local governments, for instance, and to help repair infrastructure.

He also proposed spending $350 million from the state’s tax on carbon emissions for forest management on fire prevention and new helicopters and fire engines, and that’s probably a good idea as well.

In addition, just as after the 9/11 attacks New York City found that its public-safety communications equipment needed massive upgrades simply for different agencies to be able to talk to each other, so do California fire chiefs say that huge changes must be made so they can muster their troops in such large emergencies.

The deadly October fires completely overloaded California’s antiquated mutual aid system, causing delays in getting critically needed firefighters and equipment, the Press Democrat in Sonoma reports. The state’s old software system, used by dispatchers who were overwhelmed by so many requests for assistance, meant the first requests for as many as 400 extra engines placed by Cal Fire and local fire officials weren’t completely processed for many hours, Bay Area fire chiefs said.

And they have hatched a $100 million-plan to add dispatchers, extra equipment and firefighing manpower during extreme fire weather times of the year.

It just got even more expensive to live in the Golden State.


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