Wildfires have become a major concern in California after a series of fires took lives and ripped up the landscape in Northern and Southern California over the last year. The danger of more devastating fires is increased in the coming fire season. Homelessness has also been a growing scourge on the Golden State and many of its residents. Homeless encampments in brush areas adds to the threat of more fires. Relieving the homelessness problem could lessen fire danger to a degree.
Governor Gavin Newsom is preparing to confront the wildfire threat.
His budget includes $1 billion for emergency response and equipment including firefighting helicopters and tankers. He pushed and signed AB 1054.
While the media focus on the bill has been on how to deal with utility companies found liable for starting a fire, the law also establishes the California Wildfire Safety Advisory Board to advise and make recommendations on wildfire safety. ‘
In addition, the governor signed an executive order to hire about 400 new firefighters to prepare for the wildfire season. The new firefighters will provide safety for firefighters to rotate off the fire line more often. He also got behind 35 fire mitigation efforts around the state, such as pre-established fire breaks.
To bring focus to the firefight effort, Newsom joined with former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger yesterday at McClellan Airport to examine new technology and equipment Cal Fire will use in battling fire emergencies.
One other important step would be to come up with a solution for the homeless camps in brush country that can be sources of fire outbreaks.
California wildfires begin in many ways. The Carr Fire near Redding erupted after a fender of a car that suffered a flat tire scraped the asphalt and the resulting spark caught hold in nearby brush. The Camp Fire that devastated the town of Paradise and took 85 lives resulted from faulty utility company equipment.
But fires have also started at homeless camps, especially because of the careless use of butane stoves used for cooking.
The Sepulveda Basin section of Los Angeles this week saw a fire started in a homeless encampment that scorched 6 acres and left those living in the camp without the shelter of tents they were using for cover.
A few miles to the south last December in the Sepulveda Pass that connects the San Fernando Valley to West Los Angeles by the busy 405 Freeway, the Skirball Fire scorched 475 acres and destroyed four homes. It started in a homeless camp.
While local governments are trying to apply solutions to reduce homelessness, the state’s interest could be tied to those efforts by seeking another way to cut back on potential fires. When affordable and stand by housing is built homeless people from camps in fire danger areas would be a priority. Even before that occurs, authorities should consider moving them to safer surroundings to avoid catastrophic wildfires.
While the public health issue may overturn precedents that keep urban homeless encampments in place, a similar argument could be made about fire threats in fire danger areas.