Gov. Newsom said he plans to dedicate more resources to fire safety and disaster preparedness this year, including a new Wildfire Safety Division at the Public Utilities Commission to oversee investor-owned utilities like PG&E.
As the state fights the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Gavin Newsom is preparing to simultaneously tackle another upcoming urgent matter: wildfire season.
Already it's looking like it could be a rough one.
After a dry winter, much of the state is experiencing drought conditions heading into peak fire season.
Since Jan. 1 of this year, the state has seen an increase of more than 65% in wildfires compared to the same time period last year.
Newsom insisted the state is up to the challenge of taking on both the pandemic and wildfires.
"You gotta walk and chew gum at the same time," Newsom said, speaking at a fire station in El Dorado County. "We're focused on coronavirus mitigation, trying to suppress the spread. At the same time we have to mitigate and suppress these fires."
The governor is seeking to add more than $85 million to the state firefighting budget, which will help hire an additional 600 firefighters before the start of fire season.
Part of trying to address both issues at the same time involves, for example, modifications to evacuation procedures.
Plans are being made to have segregated evacuations for COVID-19 patients and those without the virus. That may mean residents will be asked to evacuate earlier in the course of a a fire approaching than they might have been asked in the past. The state is also considering using hotels to help house evacuees.
The governor warned earlier this week the coronavirus pandemic has left the state with a multi-billion dollar budget deficit. In the revised state budget, which the governor plans to reveal Thursday, Newsom said he plans to dedicate more resources - not fewer - to fire safety and disaster preparedness.
"Just this last week, 246 wildfires have occurred here in the state of California," Newsom said. "We just ran some numbers. From January to May 10 last year, we had 675 wildfires. From January to May 10 this year, we've had 1,130 wildfires."
The additional resources include a new Wildfire Safety Division at the Public Utilities Commission to oversee investor-owned utilities like PG&E, funding for Cal Fire to support surge staffing, 26 additional fire engines and more.
The governor's comments come a day after he laid out new guidelines for reopening restaurants, malls and offices around the state. Though many are anxious to reopen more businesses, only seven counties have been given the green light to open dine-in restaurants, shopping malls and schools.