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Secretary Of The Interior Tours San Diego To Assess Wildfire Risk


Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell got a helicopter tour of San Diego County on Tuesday so local and state officials could show her the risk the region faces if a wildfire breaks out.

Jewell said she was struck by how homes and rural areas intertwined, and she saw many areas that could benefit from more defensible space. She also noted that the region has a lot of vegetation that could ignite if a wildfire broke out.

The federal government will pitch in when fires occur, but that comes with a cost, Jewell said. The Interior Department has struggled to pay for firefighting efforts, spending more than the agency budgeted in each of the past 10 years.

Jewell said the problem is getting worse at the same time that the risk of fire is going up.

"We do see in this national climate assessment that there is increasing risk for wildfire across our landscapes. Particularly in this southwestern quadrant of the United States," Jewell said. "Invasive species are a big factor. Drought is a big factor. Weather is a big factor. Not to mention, increasing population."

Jewell said legislation is in the works that will change how firefighting efforts are paid for, which will help the agency do more prevention instead of just reacting.

Meanwhile, state officials are bracing for a challenging summer.

"We do have fuel moisture that is very, very low. The conditions are literally a perfect storm for wildland fire eruption," said Mark Ghilarducci, director of the California Department of Emergency Services.

Cal Fire officials no winter break from the fire season occurred this year, with the risk of a dangerous fire not subsiding since April 2013.

Current conditions also do not give fire officials hope for relief anytime soon.