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About California Office of Emergency Services

California Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) addresses risks, threats, and vulnerabilities in California with an emphasis on emergency management.

California Office of Emergency Services Headquarter Location

2650 Schriever Avenue

Sacramento, California, 95655,

United States

Latest California Office of Emergency Services News

California fires: State faces challenging fire season amid worsening drought, Newsom says

May 24, 2021

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, center, arrives at a press conference on a new Sikorsky S70i Black Hawk firefighting helicopter with Cal Fire chief Thomas Porter, left, and Mark Ghilarducci, director of the California Office of Emergency Services, right, to highlight new firefighting equipment and his proposed $2 billion investment in wildfire and emergency preparedness at a press conference in McClellan Park in Sacramento County on Monday, May 24, 2021. (Renee C. Byer/The Sacramento Bee via AP) PUBLISHED: | UPDATED: May 24, 2021 at 3:46 p.m. On the heels of last year’s record wildfire season, Gov. Gavin Newsom warned Monday that California is facing another difficult summer and fall of fires due to the worsening drought. “None of us are naïve about the challenge this state faces, or for that matter the entire Western United States,” Newsom said during a visit to the Cal Fire aviation center at McLellan Park in Sacramento. “Record drought conditions persist all through the Western United States.” So far this year, more fires have burned in California than during the same period last year, particularly in Southern California. From Jan. 1 to May 19, there have been 2,504 wildfires statewide, up from 1,534 fires in 2020, according to statistics from the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise. And last year, while 2,527 acres had burned by mid-May, this year, 15,390 acres have already burned. Newsom said Cal Fire, California’s main state firefighting agency, is getting an early start on the potentially disastrous year by bringing seasonal firefighters on duty early. The state already finished all 35 high-priority forest thinning projects it identified last year, he said, and is counting on a $2 billion wildfire package that Newsom sent to the state Legislature last week as part of the state’s revised May budget to beef up the number of helicopters, engines and other equipment. “This state is up to the task. We are resilient,” Newsom said. “We have remarkable grit and capacity. And now we will have more resources.” He noted that scientists have said increasing temperatures from climate change are boosting fire risk by drying out vegetation earlier in the year. “We’re already feeling the temperature shifts,” Newsom said of this spring. “We’ve already seen the red flag warnings.” Last year ended up being a catastrophe for many communities. In one 24-hour period in August, more than 12,000 lightning strikes from freak storms ignited huge blazes across the state. Driven by winds and hot temperatures, 4.3 million acres ultimately burned last year, with flames destroying more than 10,000 structures, killing 31 people and decimating the state’s oldest state park, Big Basin Redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains. California could get lucky this year and avoid the lightning. But trees, shrubs, grasses and soils are drier now after the second dry winter in a row. This week, 77% of California is in extreme or exceptional drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. One year ago this week, only 3% of the state’s land was in extreme or exceptional drought. During the fires last year, California struggled with a reduced number of inmate firefighting crews due to COVID outbreaks at prisons. Cal Fire chief Tom Porter said Monday that as part of the state’s budget surplus, Cal Fire is adding 1,399 season firefighters, many of whom are being called to duty in Southern California now. Cal Fire officials were not able to put that number into context, however, when asked how it compared to last year. They said there are about 3,000 seasonal firefighters this year at Cal Fire. Overall, last year at the peak of fire season about 19,000 firefighters from CalFire, city departments, federal agencies and other states battled the wildfires statewide. Porter asserted that California is in a better position this spring than it was last spring. “We have a lot more boots on the ground and the ability to fight fire on that ground now than we did at this time last year,” Porter said. Cal Fire is responsible for putting out wildfires on state and private land across 31 million acres, about 30% of California’s land mass. The federal government owns about 50% of California’s land, with most of the forests overseen by the U.S. Forest Service. The Forest Service is running short of the most experienced and elite firefighters in its agency — crews known as hotshots. With starting pay about $14 an hour, the Forest Service’s pay and benefits are less that what Cal Fire and city departments pay, the Los Angeles Times reported last week. Porter said that California isn’t short. “We have had no problem hiring all of the firefighters we need for this season,” he said. Newsom’s updated budget adds $708 million to a $536 million wildfire package that lawmakers approved earlier this year, bringing the total wildfire package to $1.24 billion over two years. That money will pay to thin public and privately owned forests, cut fuel breaks, buy more helicopters, expand firefighting crews, boost the number of state fire inspectors who check homes for defensible space, and other wildfire programs. Newsom also touted an additional $800 million in his budget Monday for disaster assistance. Some of that can be spent for earthquakes, floods and other disasters, however, particularly in grants to cities and counties. Newsom is facing a recall election in the fall. One of his chief rivals, Republican Kevin Faulconer, the former mayor of San Diego, slammed Monday’s event. “Gavin Newsom has been an absentee governor for years and even with today’s announcement, funding for wildfires in California is only a fraction of what we’re spending on the high speed rail boondoggle,” said Faulconer spokesman John Burke. “We can’t trust anything Newsom says, that’s why California voters are recalling him.” Newsom urged homeowners in fire-prone areas to clear brush and trees back now. “Let us all be mindful and let us all be prepared as we move into this fire season,” Newsom said. California Gov. Gavin Newsom highlights new firefighting equipment and his proposed $2 billion investment in wildfire and emergency preparedness at a press conference at Cal Fire’s airbase in McClellan Park in Sacramento County on Monday, May 24, 2021. (Renee C. Byer/The Sacramento Bee via AP)

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