As California faces a looming fire season with about 90 percent of the state in moderate to exceptional drought, the Director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Thom Porter, is concerned about the wildfire readiness of the agency.
Below is an excerpt from the Mendocino Voice, April 9, 2021:
“The operational concerns that I have are really in boots on the ground,” said Porter. “We’re fairly well staffed — on the wildland side of the department — at the engine company level, dozers are pretty good. We’re really good on aircraft and feeling better all the time on our aircraft program — but our hand crew capacity is really dismal.”
In the past, Cal Fire has had 190 prison crews available for the season. This year they have less than 70, according to Porter. Out of “So we’re somewhere between 30% to 40% capacity currently with the inmate program,” said Porter. “Not good.”
The prisoner crews, which Cal Fire usually refers to as the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) crews, have been slashed during COVID, as outbreaks have significantly shrunk training programs. “We’re well over 1000 [firefighters] short now,” said Porter. “That is the biggest vulnerability and as far as me, Thom Porter, director of Cal Fire, I’m concerned.” However, some of this gap in firefighter staffing may be filled with some $80 million that Governor Gavin Newsom has allocated to Cal Fire using emergency funds.