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Gov. Gavin Newsom declares state wildfire emergency, citing ‘extreme peril’

What it looks like when crews remove contaminated fire debris in Paradise

Specialized contractors begin removing the remains of the home of Robert and Joan Badour in Paradise on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019. The home was destroyed in the Camp Fire in November. The property will be bare earth when they are finished.
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Specialized contractors begin removing the remains of the home of Robert and Joan Badour in Paradise on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019. The home was destroyed in the Camp Fire in November. The property will be bare earth when they are finished.

Four months after the deadliest wildfire in California history, Gov. Gavin Newsom is declaring a statewide emergency to speed up fire prevention efforts.

Citing “extreme peril” to life and property, Newsom’s Friday morning executive order will fast-track the state’s tree clearing and other forest management work.

His action comes just four months after Camp Fire devastated the Northern California town of Paradise in November, killing 85 people and razing nearly 14,000 homes.

Newsom announced his action in Lake County, where the deadly Mendocino Complex fires burned last summer.

“We’re here to do more to support this community,” Newsom said. “Today, I will be signing a proclamation that declares an emergency in advance of an emergency. Rather than reacting, we want to get ahead of this.”

He spoke flanked by Lake County residents and officials, including two Democratic state lawmakers. His move also garnered Republican praise.

“This is a recognition that excessive environmental laws are preventing proper forestry work,” U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Oroville, said in a statement. “The proposal made today is in line with the work I am doing with the Trump Administration to speed up forestry projects in order to reduce the risks of major forest fires.”

Newsom’s order, which exempts the forest management projects from some environmental regulations, drew criticism from conservation groups. The state’s tree-clearing program harms the environment and doesn’t adequately prevent fires, said Shaye Wolf, the Center for Biological Diversity’s climate science director.

“We share Gov. Newsom’s desire for urgent action on wildfires, but for decades now, harmful logging-based strategies have failed to keep Californians safe,” Wolf said in a statement. “The governor should reject this doomed, destructive approach and direct funding toward proven fire-safety strategies like retrofitting homes and improving defensible space around them.”

Newsom also announced Friday how he’ll spend money set aside in this year’s budget to teach Californians to prepare for wildfires and raise awareness among vulnerable communities.

About $24 million will be focused in six fire-prone counties, including Lake and Fresno, and on helping community-based organizations spread the word. It will also include grants for groups that help pets and farm animals during disasters. Another $12 million will fund local and regional response teams and $13 million will finance a public awareness campaign.

Newsom’s executive order points to more than 2 million California homes in rural areas, most of which are in high fire hazard zones.

The Democratic governor has proposed additional money for fire-fighting and prevention efforts in the next state budget, which he and lawmakers are still negotiating. His plans include more money for clearing trees, better alert systems, and remote infrared cameras to help detect fires early.

He wants to spend $40 million hiring 131 more firefighters and buy 13 new engines, although some lawmakers are pushing him to double that proposed expenditure.

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