By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – California, heading into a wildfire season expected to surpass last year’s unprecedented rash of conflagrations, has mobilized a bigger firefighting force than ever before, as the governor calls for a record $2 billion fire-safety budget.
Governor Gavin Newsom emphasized his wildfire preparedness budget through an appearance on Monday with the head of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire), days following the Biden government unveiled its strategy to boost fire prevention in U.S. national forests.
As Southern California moves to peak fire season in the midst of a drought gripping much of the U.S. West, authorities have recorded 1,000-plus more wildfires throughout the country up to now this season than had erupted by precisely the same stage in ), Newsom said.
Last year declared the heaviest wildfire year on record in California in terms of total acreage burned, with over 4 million acres (1.6 million hectares) and over 10,000 houses and other structures laid to waste. At least 33 lives have been lost. More than 10 million acres (4 million hectares) went up in flames throughout several Western countries.
The devastating outbreak of fires had been stoked by months of frequent and protracted bouts of extreme heat, drought, lightning and wind storms which scientists point to as a result of climate change.
“None of us are naive about the challenges that this state faces, for that matter the entire Western United States,” Newsom said in a CalFire hangar for plane tankers and water-dropping helicopters in Sacramento, the state capital.
CalFire Chief Thom Porter said his bureau was expanding the positions of its seasonal crews by more than 1,400 firefighters compared with last year, and most of them are on the work now as CalFire ramps up its force sooner than normal.
“We actually have more firefighters on the ground going into peak season than we ever had before,” Porter told reporters.
He said the nation had managed to fill a wave of vacancies left by prison inmates that formerly constituted the majority of CalFire’s floor crews but were currently available in fewer amounts due to state statute.
A previous $80 million budget paid for the extra hiring, ” the governor said.
The fiscal 2021-2022 funding proposition which Newsom filed this month to lawmakers calls for $2 billi
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