Governor Gavin Newsom announced Saturday, Aug. 22 that the White House had approved California’s request for a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration to bolster the state’s emergency response to wildfires burning in Northern California. The funds will also support impacted residents in multiple counties across the state.
“Thank you to the President for your partnership and granting this urgent Major Disaster Declaration. California is battling two of the largest fires in our history and has seen nearly 600 new fires in the last week caused by dry lightning strikes. These are unprecedented times and conditions, but California is strong – we will get through this,” said Governor Newsom.
A Presidential Major Disaster Declaration helps people in the impacted counties through eligibility for support including crisis counseling, housing and unemployment assistance and legal services. It also provides federal assistance to help state, tribal and local governments fund emergency response, recovery and protective measures.
Governor Newsom has declared a statewide emergency due to the widespread fires and extreme weather conditions and activated the State Operations Center to its highest level. California has secured Fire Management Assistance Grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to support the state’s response to various fires burning in area counties.
The Governor last month announced that the state would hire 858 more firefighters and six California Conservation Corps (CCC) crews through October to bolster firefighting support amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In the past year and a half, California has taken major action and made critical investments to fortify wildfire preparedness and response capabilities. CAL FIRE completed the last of its 35 emergency fuels management projects in May, making 90,000 acres safer ahead of wildfire season and protecting 200 vulnerable communities.
Major investments include augmenting the CAL FIRE air fleet with new FIREHAWK S-70i helicopters and C-130 airplanes, and bolstering firefighting surge capacity and pre-positioning capabilities. The state also launched an Innovation Procurement Sprint to develop early warning technologies and place fire detection cameras across the state. This year’s budget included $85.6 million in new, ongoing dollars to fund permanent firefighting positions, and continues the funding for CAL FIRE to procure innovative technology that allows officials to model fire behavior.
Ahead of wildfire season, the state won critical safety victories from PG&E to make the utility more accountable to the state and ensure wildfire safety and reliability are top priorities. The state gained new oversight authority over wildfire and public safety power shutoffs and increased safety expertise inside the company. The Governor also signed SB 350, which enacted real consequences if the company doesn’t act safely. The state bolstered requirements for all of the state’s investor-owned utilities’ wildfire prevention operational plans and requires utilities to invest $5 billion in infrastructure. All three large IOUs have taken steps to reduce the size and scope of public safety power shutoffs by hardening infrastructure, reducing hazards through vegetation management, sectionalizing the grid so that smaller areas can be taken offline, and improving weather monitoring technology and modeling.