Fighting fire is expensive. Agencies in California spent almost $1.8 billion fighting wildfires last year. That emphasizes the taxpayer’s expense. Much of that money will be reimbursed by the federal government (still taxpayer money) but the state will have to cough up at least $371 million to replenish the depleted firefighting fund.
The Legislative Analysis Office also notes that state revenue expectations have been exceeded by a long shot so far this year. Thus, replenishing the funds will not be hard.
Close to $1.5 billion was spent to fight the fires North of San Francisco and to repair the damage those fires left behind. Another $300 million went to fires in Southern California.
Governor Jerry Brown wants to spend $35 million of next year’s budget to help local governments with lost local sales and property and hotel tax revenue. He also wants to grab $350 million out of the state’s carbon tax to get new helicopters and fire engines and to do more forest management.
The state’s fire chiefs have asked the Legislature for an extra $100 million so they can call in more firefighters when it looks like weather conditions are perfect for fire. They say reinforcements were very slow to arrive — especially in Napa and Sonoma counties — and that 12 to 24 hours made a big difference. Having firefighters in place and equipment in place might have kept those fires small.
Santa Rosa Fire Chief Tony Gossner said, “We need to be more nimble in the first few hours of these incidents. Prepositioned engines, that would have helped. It wouldn’t have solved everything but it would’ve helped.”
What the fire chiefs ignored in their testimony before the Legislature is a California Office of Emergency Services report on the Napa and Sonoma fires that said the two counties were ill-prepared, disorganized and lacked sufficient training. In the focus on Sonoma County, the report said overlapping responsibilities and emergency roles that were poorly defined “appear to have resulted in duplication, inconsistency and some confusion in messages transmitted to the public.”
The report went on to say, “Checklists or detailed procedures for deciding what warnings to issue, when, and in what form appeared to be almost entirely absent, except for a widely shared understanding that the basic required criterion was `imminent threat to life, health or property.”’
In warning residents, documents show the county:
• Targeted 55,000 telephone numbers via SoCoAlert
• Just half were actually reached
• 6,000 text and emails were sent
• The county sent 38,000 messages through Nixle’s telephone alert system
• But the messages only went to those residents who signed up in advance
Another problem is the county’s emergency system being set up for flood emergencies and evacuations. Alerts had to be ad-libbed by officials worried about panic and traffic congestion inhibiting responders.
The conclusion is that “in such a rapidly developing situation left a number of individuals in the position of assuming responsibility for framing evacuation messages without adequate training, information, or in coordination with other elements of government.”
Mark Ghilarducci is California’s top emergency services official. He summed the report up saying, “The disaster, the events, got out in front of them. They could not catch up. Although they had systems in place — they had plans in place in who was going to issue alerts and how they were going to do that — they fell short. There were gaps. There were shortcomings.”
Source links: Insurance Journal — link 1, link 2, link 3, Associated Press, The Press Democrat