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As Drought Intensifies, California Seeing More Wildfires

 May 25, 2021 at 10:16 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 With most of California already in severe to extreme drought conditions. Governor Gavin Newsome is proposing a massive $2 billion infusion into state wildfire preparations. Those proposals include 1400 new firefighters forest management with firebreaks created up and down the state and more firefighting aircraft, including 12 Firehawk helicopters. Speaker 2: 00:25 These fly much faster. They allow for more suppression. There were a lot more safe, which is significant for our Cal fire brothers and sisters Newsome Speaker 1: 00:34 Says so far this year, California has already seen hundreds more wildfire outbreaks. Then at this time last year and 2020 was of course a record-breaking fire season with much of the destruction coming from lightning sparked fires in Northern California. Joining me is Thomas chutes of fire, captain and public information officer for Cal fire and the San Diego county fire authority. And captain shoots Thomas, welcome to the program. Thanks for having me. Where does San Diego stand in face of this widespread drought in the state? How bad is it here? Speaker 3: 01:09 Yeah, we still have a huge challenge ahead of us here yet. I ironically, we're probably one of the better counties, um, throughout the state, uh, sitting at abnormally dry, which is, uh, not a place we want to be, but with most of the state in some level of drought, um, or looking slightly better, we still haven't seen that rainfall, that moisture that we need down here, we know that we still have a huge challenge with the fuels out there, all the grass and brush. And so, um, we, we certainly have a long summer to, to look forward to as well, but, um, you know, we know statewide, it's going to be a challenge all around. Speaker 1: 01:43 Now. One fire scientist has described the vegetation in California and the west as being quote so dry. It's like having gasoline out there is that the case here in Sandy, Speaker 3: 01:54 It's certainly like that when we have the, the wind factor, um, the, the winds can really make or break our firefight out there. Um, and we saw that just a few weeks ago with the Southern fire out in the desert. Um, the shelter valley area of fire was able to take off overnight, grow over 5,000 acres. And that's almost one third of the acreage that's burned in the state. And I was out in the desert where the fields are, are relatively sparse. It not a whole lot of continuity of the fuels, but we had the wind pushing on it, a very strong wind actually out of the west. And that, that, that wind can make up for a lot and it can make those fires, uh, grow exponentially. And it causes a lot of problems for us is Speaker 1: 02:33 The drought in the west. The only reason for this dangerous wildfire season, maybe our forest management policies, Speaker 3: 02:41 It feels like there's a lot of things coming together. You know, down here in San Diego county, we don't have as many of the timber forest that a lot of people think of. When you, when you're thinking about Northern California, a lot of our forest communities are the Chaparral communities, the brush, um, intermixed, and, and, uh, of course, with, with homes populations out there, I'd say a big problem for us is it seems like we've had a lot shorter winter times. We haven't been getting that moisture. And so those Chaparral communities, the brush is a lot drier than it has been historically that's causing some issues for us. And then of course, um, you know, not being able to, uh, manage the land is as much as we'd like over the past many decades, uh, these stands have the potential to build up and, and create more fuel for us. And so it's something that we're excited about looking, um, into the future about really taking an aggressive stance on doing these field mod, uh, field management projects, these field modifications to, to really try and prep the landscape, to make it easier to fight fires when they do happen. Now, Speaker 1: 03:45 How is San Diego preparing for wildfire? What resources are available? Well, we have a lot of Speaker 3: 03:51 Things ramping up, you know, every year, um, San Diego county as a whole is, is, uh, a bit of a powerhouse on the, in the statewide system, um, with Cal fire where we're one of the biggest units. We have San Diego county fire that we work with that helps, uh, build up our arsenal down here. So with over 41 stations, we're always ramping up this time of year. This year is unique in that we've gotten a lot of funding for extra firefighters. So we're using those firefighters to build up our fire crews. That's one of our, I don't want to say weaker, but weaker points right now. And that's because the, uh, con conservation camps that we've been counting on for, for so many years and are such a huge asset to our program, have slowly seen a decrease in population. And we really need to bolster those hand crews. They're the ones who are cutting line around the fire. So they build our containment line. They separate the burn field from the unburned fuel, and they're really the unsung heroes. And so, um, we're going to be getting the C one 30 at Ramona as of next year. And so we're looking forward to that. And of course all the Firehawks coming in, but right now our biggest staffing building up that staffing, why Speaker 1: 04:58 Have the workers of the conservation Corps been depleted? Is that because of a change in the prison? Speaker 3: 05:04 Well, we have seen a decrease over the last several years. A lot of different policy changes, um, with the way that, uh, prisons are ran and how folks are held onto, um, has changed the numbers that are coming into our camps. And, uh, because of that, that statewide, we had to close, um, eight of these conservation camps. Um, two of those camps were in San Diego county. And so where we had four camps before to two male and two female, one male, and one female camp has been closed and we're working to bolster those numbers with our firefighter. One hand crews. Speaker 1: 05:36 Now the predictions for this year, as we've been saying are bad for wildfires, both in California and across the west. So how do firefighters mentally prepare when they know something like that is coming? Speaker 3: 05:48 Um, we're working hard right now in the spring time, in this interim to make sure everybody's trained up and ready to go. Everybody's well rested. If folks do need time off, they're it while they can. We actually sent out a, a strike team of engines, which is five engines in achieve, uh, last night to, to go assist, um, up in Riverside. And so we're already starting to see our, our resources get deployed. And so we we're, uh, we're taking steps to make sure that we're ready to go for that. Speaker 1: 06:13 I've been speaking with captain Thomas chutes public information officer for Cal fire and the San Diego county fire authority, captain chutes. Thank you. Thanks for having me.

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As California sinks deeper into drought it already has had more than 900 additional wildfires than at this point in 2020. The danger has prompted Gov. Gavin Newsom to propose spending a record $2 billion on wildfire mitigation.
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