As fires continued to rage in the state, Cal Fire on Thursday asked lawmakers for another $234 million to keep the agency’s firefighting budget from being exhausted.
Such requests are typical for Cal Fire, but Thursday’s request by Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott marked the earliest the agency has ever asked for additional funding, said spokesman Mike Mohler.
Barely two months into the new fiscal year, Cal Fire has already spent $431 million fighting fires, he said, out of a total budget of $443 million. Another $234 million would increase the budget by about 50 percent.
Although the legislative session ended last Friday, H.D. Palmer of the Department of Finance said emergency funds can be transferred quickly to Cal Fire with approval from the Joint Legislative Budget Committee.
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“Firefighting will not stop,” Mohler said.
Mohler said the agency isn’t out of money, but is seeking the additional funding because “we’re planning ahead....We’re seeing a record fire season, obviously.”
Also Thursday, the state announced that the two biggest fires this summer caused at least $845 million in property damage.
Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, who released the figures, said the costs are likely to climb “as insurance companies process claims and more claims are filed.”
The figures reflect the property damage from the Carr Fire, which destroyed entire neighborhoods in western Redding, and the Mendocino Complex Fire in Mendocino and Lake counties. The Mendocino Complex, which is 98 percent contained, is the largest fire in the state’s history in sheer size, at 459,123 acres. The Carr Fire, which chewed through 229,651 acres, is the seventh-largest California wildfire.
The bulk of the property damage occurred in the Carr Fire, where losses total $788 million.
Jones released the data as another dangerous fire flared up in Northern California. The Delta Fire in Shasta County was at 15,294 acres Thursday and caused the shutdown of a long stretch of I-5 north of Redding. The commissioner noted that California’s fire season traditionally peaks in September and October.
“The worst may well yet be to come, based on past history,” Jones said at a press conference in San Francisco. “The next couple of months, we could see additional fires with catastrophic losses.”
At the same time, the loss figures released Thursday are a fraction of the damage sustained in 2017’s fire season. Jones put those totals at $12.8 billion. Last October’s wine country fires, which killed 44 people and destroyed more than 5,500 homes, caused more than $9 billion in damage alone.