Gov. Gavin Newsom discussing his plans for improving wildfire protection and emergency notifications at the State Operations Center, Jan. 9, his second day in office. 
Photo courtesy Governor’s Office of Emergency Services

The day after his inauguration and accompanying celebrations, Gov. Gavin Newsom visited a fire risk area and met with emergency management officials as he signed two executive orders addressing wildfires and disasters.

One of the changes he directed his emergency management and fire officials to address is the social vulnerability of populations living in fire prone areas. Not only should they continue to assess the environmental and weather risk of fires, such as fuel load, wind, dryness and efforts to prevent or mitigate them, but Newsom wants to include social attributes, such as isolation, poverty and language barriers to identify the most vulnerable populations.

“Paired with traditional natural risk factors, this data paints a more accurate assessment of the real human risk and can help guide preventative action to help prevent loss of life — especially for vulnerable groups,” the press released stated.

The first step will be a report to him with recommendations for administrative, regulatory and policy changes he can take to prevent or mitigate wildfires. These actions will range from immediate to long-term. While Cal Fire is responsible for the report’s preparation, other state agencies such as the Office of Emergency Services will contribute.

Also, he offered an advance look at his proposed budget for Cal Fire. Last summer, before it adjourned, the Legislature authorized $1 billion in forestland management over the next five years. 

Newsom’s budget proposal will augment that figure to fund more year-round fire crews and acquiring more technology. The budget will include money for 13 fire engines, retrofitting C-130 air attack planes and fire cameras to spot fires, even using infrared units.

Also, Newsom, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee co-signed a letter to President Donald Trump urging him to increase funding for forest management in the three states.

“In recent years, federal forest management budgets have remained flat, creating a significant gap between funding and need,” the governors wrote.

“We are encouraged by Executive Order 13855, which you signed on December 21, 2018, promoting active management of America’s forests, rangelands and other federal land to improve conditions and reduce wildfire risk. However, it is constrained by current appropriations,” they continued.

Newsom also announced his senior officials for emergency and natural disaster preparedness, response and recovery. 

Among them will be Thomas Porter, whom Newsom is appointing as director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. He is serving as acting director since Ken Pimlott retired at the end of 2018.

Mark Ghilarducci was reappointed as director of the governor’s Office of Emergency Services, where he has served since Gov. Jerry Brown appointed him in July 2013.

“It’s not a coincidence that my first full day as governor is focused on emergency preparedness. It’s deliberate, it reflects intentionality, and it speaks to the priority that I place on emergency preparedness, response and recovery,” Newsom said in the press release.