(SACRAMENTO – August 23, 2017) California’s world-class system of responding to major emergencies is being stretched to its limits, and needs help to ensure that our state is ready for climate disasters.
That’s the message delivered in Sacramento today by the leaders of many of California’s largest fire agencies. At a State Capitol news conference, fire chiefs serving nearly a quarter of California residents joined their labor counterparts to call for a secure investment of cap-and-trade funding to address the extreme threats climate change poses to Californians right here and now.
“Every year, the danger posed by extreme wildfires grows, with no end in sight,” said Michael DuRee, president of the California Fire Chiefs Association and chief of the Long Beach Fire Department. “With millions of Californians in the path of destruction, it’s essential that our state’s world-class disaster response network is equipped, trained and ready to meet the danger we know is coming.”
Extreme climate events are a direct threat to the lives and livelihoods of millions of Californians. Two million households are at risk of extreme wildfire. Upwards of seven million people live in areas at risk of flooding. Because of increased construction in the wildland-urban interface, California’s most populated areas have faced the greatest peril. Of the 13 major wildfires (50,000 acres+) that have happened within two miles of a city since 2000, 11 happened in California.
“For California’s firefighters, the impact of climate change isn’t a theoretical discussion: Climate disasters are a reality that we confront every day,” said Lou Paulson, president of California Professional Firefighters. “To protect Californians and the climate, our local and state response network needs more resources in place to keep small fires from becoming environmental disasters.”
Extreme wildfires are a significant source of greenhouse gases linked to climate change. According to the Journal of Geophysical Research, wildfires are responsible nearly one-fifth of all human-caused carbon emissions. Even more urgently, increasing evidence suggests the number and intensity of wildfires in California are a result of the changing climate. One study estimates that the wildfire risk in California could grow six-fold by 2050. Another study co-authored by the Natural Resources Defense Council estimates climate change could increase U.S. wildfire costs by $10 billion to $60 billion within a few decades.
“The combination punishing drought and long-term effects of devastating pest invasions has put millions of our residents in the shadow of wildland fire disasters,” said Mark Hartwig, chief of San Bernardino County Fire Department and incoming president of CalChiefs. “Our ability to protect our citizens depends on a mutual aid system that can meet the threat before it climbs onto our doorsteps.”
These costs are felt most particularly by the local agencies that form the backbone of California’s disaster response network. Since 2012, local agencies have been unable to fill a growing number of mutual aid requests for wildfire response because the resources and equipment weren’t available. Last year, the number of requests that couldn’t be filled tripled from that in 2015.
“Our world-class mutual aid system is built on the motto of ‘one team … one fight,’” said Daryl Osby, chief of the Los Angeles County Fire Department. “If we are to protect California from the risks posed by climate disasters, we need to make sure that our entire system is equipped and ready. No one agency can do the job by itself. We have to work together.”
At the Capitol news conference, the chiefs urged lawmakers to allocate funds for disaster response from the state’s newly-extended cap-and-trade law. The allocation would be earmarked for expanded training, equipment and support for local agency emergency response, a long-delayed expansion of disaster response engines pre-positioned in high-risk areas, and full restoration of the funding for CAL FIRE lost with the repeal of the SRA fee.
Joining Chiefs DuRee and Osby and Hartwig at today’s event was Jeff Carman, chief of Contra Costa County Fire Protection District and chair of the California Metro Fire Chiefs. Joining the chiefs were representatives of their respective labor groups – Long Beach Firefighters, Los Angeles County Firefighters, San Bernardino County Firefighters and United Firefighters of Contra Costa County.
The California Fire Chiefs Association represents more than 800 fire agencies operating within the state of California – paid, combination and volunteer. California Professional Firefighters represents some 30,000 front line firefighters in 180 affiliated local firefighter associations.
SOURCE: California Fire Chiefs Association