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Calif. Governor Signs Bill Aiming for More Prescribed Fires

Senate Bill 322 raises the legal standard to hold trained managers overseeing prescribed fires on the hook for firefighting costs only if they acted recklessly, allowing the fire to burn out of control.

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(TNS) - The movement to expand prescribed fires in California received a boost Wednesday when Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a new law reducing the financial risks for burn bosses when fires escape control lines and require an emergency response.

Senate Bill 322 raises the legal standard to hold trained managers overseeing prescribed fires on the hook for firefighting costs only if they acted recklessly, allowing the fire to burn out of control.

Prescribed fires are increasingly seen as a crucial tool to fight the state's wildfire crisis by clearing overgrowth to create healthier forests and add buffers between wildlands and communities. They are rooted in indigenous forest management traditions.

State Sen. Bill Dodd, D- Napa, introduced the bill to remove a layer of risk for the professionals, called burn bosses, who are leading efforts to improve ecosystems and fire safety. He said documented instances of prescribed fires getting out of control and causing damage are rare.

"Controlled burning is a valuable tool in addressing the buildup of fuels in our parched forests and wildlands," Dodd wrote. "Its use can save us from ever-worsening conditions caused by drought and climate change. I thank the governor for seeing the value in this new law."

Lenya Quinn-Davidson, director of Northern California Prescribed Fire Council and a fire advisor with the University of California Cooperative Extension, supported the law.

"Those of us who work on prescribed fire have felt the need for these changes for years, but we never thought we'd see them happen," Quinn-Davidson said in a statement issued by Dodd's office. "We are so thankful to Sen. Dodd for his vision and leadership, which will effect real, positive change around prescribed burning and fire resiliency in California."

Julie Johnson is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: julie.johnson@sfchronicle.com

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