California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday declared a statewide emergency to immediately begin wildfire prevention efforts across the state.
The announcement, made in Northern California’s Lake County, follows one of the worst fire seasons in state history. Newsom said his executive order was “a proclamation that declares an emergency in advance of an emergency.”
“We want to get ahead of this … before lives are lost and property is lost,” he said, speaking in a county that was hit hard by last year’s Mendocino Complex wildfire, the state’s largest-ever.
The governor’s executive order aims to speed up tree clearing and other forest management efforts in areas at high risk of wildfires, reducing vegetation that could fuel fires from around 200 communities. It also orders the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to work together with the California National Guard to conduct fuel reduction projects.
In order to speed up fire management projects, the declaration says the state will set aside environmental reviews of projects and suspend competitive bidding requirements for contracts.
“We’re not naive about environmental concerns,” the governor said Friday, anticipating concerns about waiving environmental regulations. “We will be thoughtful about these prescribed burns.”
California has experienced devastating and worsening wildfires in recent years, including the state’s deadliest and most destructive wildfire ever: last year’s Camp fire, which tore through the town of Paradise, killing 85 people and burning nearly 14,000 homes. Last year alone, wildfires burned over 870,000 acres across the state ― far surpassing the 2017 total of about 500,000 acres burned and almost quadrupling the five-year average of about 230,000 acres.
As part of the upcoming state budget, which Newsom is still negotiating with lawmakers, the governor has proposed increased funds for firefighting and fire prevention efforts, The Sacramento Bee reported. The additional money would go to hiring more firefighters, clearing trees, improving alert systems and more.
“Bottom line … we gotta step up our game, get our act together,” Newsom said Friday. “This fire season, it’s right around the corner. … We’ve got to be much more proactive.”
“2017 was the worst fire season in California’s history ― until 2018,” he added. “We can’t allow 2019 that status.”