In his proposed $222 billion budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year beginning July 1, California Gov. Gavin Newsom put forth several initiatives that if approved by the legislature could have a significant effect on wildland firefighting in the state. The budget refers to “the new normal fire conditions” and the need to mitigate long periods of fighting fires without respite.
Additional funding for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) would include $120 million in 2020-2021 and $150 ongoing for each of the following four years. This would enable the creation of 677 more positions phased in over five years resulting in operational flexibility through peak fire season and beyond, based on fire conditions. These positions would:
- Provide coverage behind personnel vacations, sick days, training, and during predicted weather events and major incidents.
- Provide a resource pool to staff additional engines on the shoulder seasons if it becomes necessary to increase the staffing on the existing 65 year-round engines.
- Add a fourth firefighter on a portion of CAL FIRE engines as fire conditions dictate.
The budget includes $9 million to establish a Wildfire Forecast and Threat Intelligence Integration Center staffed by 22 positions to identify current wildfire threats and improve situational awareness of conditions in real-time.
The proposed budget sets aside $100 million for CAL FIRE and OES to administer a home hardening pilot program, with a focus on homes located in low-income communities in areas of high fire risk. The program would also fund 26 positions for defensible space inspections.
The budget approved for the 2019-2020 fiscal year included funds to operate the HC-130H aircraft that will be converted to air tankers, continue the replacement of the 12 aging Bell Super Huey Helicopters with new Sikorsky S-70I Firehawks, and operate 100 additional fire detection cameras.