Local officials applaud Gov. Newsom's wildfire emergency declaration

The threat of a big fire season has California's governor taking action before it happens.

Gavin Newsom on Friday declared a state of emergency over the threat of wildfires.

By declaring a state of emergency, the governor is able to forego a lot of the legal and environmental requirements to get things moving. For example, the state doesn't have to go through lengthy bid processes to spend money on projects or equipment to prevent fires and gets around some environmental restrictions. His emergency order spends money already allocated by the legislature.

He's acting on recommendations from Cal Fire to focus on protecting 94,000 acres around some 200 communities from the threat of wild and forest fires. Areas in Fresno, Madera and Mariposa Counties are included.

Mariposa County Supervisor Rosemarie Smallcombe applauds the governor's action.

"The governor and the executive agencies recognize we are all in the same boat. There's a huge threat to many of our communities," Smallcombe says.

Among other things, the action clears the way for additional clearing of dead trees and underbrush that can fuel a fire threat, and by declaring an emergency now, the governor believes he can bypass usual bidding and environmental procedures.

In his emergency declaration, he sets aside nearly $50 million for the work in the forests and other fire preparation programs in communities. That is in addition to the $40 million he's put in the state budget to put more manpower on the fire lines - a move Supervisor Smallcombe approves.

"We know that he is asking for more firefighters and equipment and those resources are deployed ASAP as soon as there is an incident and so we will benefit from those additional resources."

Newsom says he's doing this because fires burned 1.9 million acres in California last year, destroyed 20,000 homes and buildings and claimed 100 lives.

"This fire season - it's right around the corner. We cannot be once again flat-footed," he said during his announcement.

However, the governor's plans are already under fire from environmental groups.

The Center for Biological diversity says logging-based strategies of clearing trees don't work. They suggest more money for clearing spaces around homes and hardening homes and buildings against fires. But the governor says his goal is to protect 2 million homes located in areas where wildfires are a threat.
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