Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a package of 22 bills for California’s wildfire mitigation and preparedness efforts Wednesday, building on the $1 billion allocated for wildfire and emergency investment in the budget.
Multiple Assembly members and senators contributed individual bills related to wildfire intervention, ranging from fire prevention techniques to mitigating climate change through clean energy policies.
Lenya Quinn-Davidson, an area fire advisor for the UC Cooperative Extension, worked closely on AB 38 with Assemblymember Jim Wood’s office, D-Santa Rosa. AB 38 works to develop community-wide resilience through home-hardening techniques and defensible space development. Assemblymember Bill Quirk, D-Hayward, author of AB 1584, wrote about the relevance of climate change in enhancing wildfire risk.
“What we are seeing now with wildfires will only get worse. It is no longer just climate change we are dealing with, it’s a climate crisis,” Quirk said in an email. “The bills Governor Newsom signed, including mine, are starting to move California towards better mitigation of, and response to, wildfires.”
Scott McLean, deputy chief of communications of CAL FIRE, said Newsom is leading fire efforts in the right direction, not only through fuel reduction projects, but through education on wildfire prevention as well.
UC Berkeley is in the process of launching new initiatives for wildfire research. According to Keith Gilless, dean emeritus of the UC Berkeley College of Natural Resources and campus professor of forest economics, recognizing the implications of climate change on California’s wildfires is important in addressing passive resistance to fire ignition in communities.
“Climate change, generally speaking, has more to do with fire behavior than fire ignitions,” Gilless said. “Climate change can cause significant changes in the vegetation matrix in the landscape.”
Tarek Zohdi, director of fire research at UC Berkeley, said although fire is essential to maintaining California’s ecosystems, the key to suppressing wildfire intensity is to create methods of early detection and mitigation. Zohdi said his team is currently developing rapid computational tools that first responders can use to predict a fire’s path and how best to deploy resources.
U.S. Forest Service research scientist Brandon Collins said more extreme weather and reduced snowpack levels increase dryness in fire-hazard areas, which can cause earlier fire seasons in coastal regions like the East Bay.
Increased litter and vegetation also play a role in fueling fires, according to Todd LaBerge, fire marshal and managing fire protection engineer for the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, who said eucalyptus trees in the East Bay Hills manufacture highly flammable oils that act as “gasoline” for raging wildfires.
Developing new tools for wildfire preparedness is becoming more prevalent as more people move into the “wildland-urban interface” and resources become scarcer, according to Zohdi.
“The idea here is that we’re not going to be able to eliminate fires … These are fire-adapted ecosystems that have experienced fire for thousands of years,” Collins said. “Communities need to expect fire and in doing so they can do better measures to survive fire and not just prevent it.”