CAL FIRE Director Thom Porter announces his retirement

Chief Thom Porter
Chief Thom Porter Oct. 28, 2019. CAL FIRE photo.

Chief Thom Porter announced Monday that he is retiring from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection after leading the agency for the last three years.

Porter was appointed acting Director of the Department by Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. on December 14, 2018. Three weeks later he was named Director by Governor Gavin Newsom.

He first started with CAL FIRE in 1999 after working as a forester since 1992 with private industry in Washington, Oregon and in the Sierra Nevada. The positions he held with CAL FIRE included the San Diego Unit Fire Chief, Assistant Southern Region Chief, and Southern Region Chief before becoming Chief of Strategic Planning in Sacramento Headquarters January 1, 2018.

The Associated Press reports that Porter took the blame in June for Gov. Gavin Newsom overstating the amount of land that had been treated with prescribed burns and fuel breaks. Newsom said 90,000 acres had been treated, when Capitol Radio first reported that the actual number was 87% less. Porter said his Department had done a poor job educating the governor and the public about its efforts.

Porter’s last day is December 10, a CAL FIRE spokesperson said. The Governor has not announced a replacement.

Porter is a 5th generation San Diego native who married his high school sweetheart and life partner Rebecca. They enjoy spending time with their two sons and their partners, and three family dogs, all of whom live in California. He said he plans to return to San Diego to focus on his family and aging parents.

The new Director of CAL FIRE addressed climate change — 9 years ago

CAL FIRE Director Thom Porter
CAL FIRE Director Thom Porter taking the oath of office. CAL FIRE photo.

The new Director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection had strong feelings about climate change before that was cool. (And some people still deny climate change, the moon landings, and they think the Earth is flat.)

Thom Porter was appointed Director of CAL FIRE by Governor Gavin Newsom on January 8, replacing Ken Pimlott who retired December 15, 2018.

In 2009, ten years after he began working for CAL FIRE, Mr. Porter was featured in a 90-second video produced by Greenpeace USA in which he talked about how climate change was affecting wildland fire.

Below is a partial transcript from the video:

As a firefighter I’m a student of the weather, and I’ve noticed that there’s a change that’s occurred in the last several years.

CAL FIRE Director Thom Porter
Thom Porter as he appeared in a 2009 video.

These patterns are not what I have grown up with. They are also not what I have seen in the historical record. We’re starting to see more monsoonal type of weather that’s causing more dry lightning which ignites fires — sometimes thousands of fires in a 24-hour period. We’re stretched for resources when that happens. We don’t have enough fire engines and aircraft to take care of all those fires.

California has a very diverse economy. A lot of it depends on water. If the climate changes and we don’t have the water we need to support that business or the people who live here, we could see all of society start to have to move out of certain areas. California could dry up and blow away.

Before his appointment by the Governor, Chief Porter had served as Chief of Strategic Planning in CAL FIRE’s Sacramento Headquarters since January 1, 2018.

Prior to his CAL FIRE career, Chief Porter worked as a forester in the timber industry in Washington, Oregon and California, developing timber harvesting plans, planning and directing prescribed burns, and managing company safety programs.

He signed on with CAL FIRE in 1999 as a Forester I in the Forestry Assistance Program at the Southern Operations Center. He eventually served as the Southern Region Chief, Assistant Region Chief, and San Diego Unit Chief.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in forest management from the University of California Berkeley and is a Registered Professional Forester.