Gov. Newsom signs 22 laws to help California with wildfire preparation
Nearly two years after the devastating North Bay wildfires, California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday signed into law a hefty package of bills to help the state forecast major wildfires, oversee tree clearing around power lines and enhance disaster preparations for communities.
The 22 new laws cover significant ground and are part of a push by the governor and the Legislature to help the state prepare for and prevent climate-driven wildfires. Four of the bills were authored by state Sen. Bill Dodd, a Napa Democrat whose district was hit hard by wildfires in 2017.
Dodd has authored 14 wildfire- related bills in the past two years and seen nine signed into law. The firestorms that killed 40 North Bay residents and destroyed nearly 6,200 homes gave him an unexpected focus.
“When I woke up on Oct. 8 (2017), I never imagined that wildfires, insurance, utilities and defensible space would be such a volume of business for me,” Dodd said. Seeing more than 150 of his immediate neighbors in the Napa area lose their homes “brings everything into perspective,” he said.
Dodd thanked Newsom for “making it a priority to address this growing threat to my home district and the entire state. We must get a handle on these destructive blazes before they claim more lives and property.”
Newsom said wildfire countermeasures have been a top priority since he took office in January.
“Given the realities of climate change and extreme weather events, the work is not done, but these bills represent important steps forward on prevention, community resiliences and utility oversight,” he said in a statement.
Three other North Bay lawmakers — state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Santa Rosa, and Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael — also had measures signed by the governor Wednesday.
Dodd singled out two new laws that he believes will make an impact.
Senate Bill 209 establishes a wildfire warning center intended to enhance the state’s ability to predict and prepare for wildfires using a statewide network of automated weather stations and fire detection cameras. The state-run center, actually a network of facilities, will be helmed by the Office of Emergency Services and Cal Fire and have access to public warning systems.
Its official name is the Wildfire Forecast and Threat Intelligence Integration Center.
“That’s going to help us on the ground be prepared, be better,” Dodd said. “We are never going to contain Mother Nature, but we sure as hell can do a better job of making sure we get to fires on a timely basis.”
Santa Rosa Fire Chief Tony Gossner, who has repeatedly testified before state lawmakers on wildfire issues, said a state-run warning center will provide technical support for local communities and help California better manage its firefighting resources.
“Technology should be leveraged, whether it’s cameras, weather stations, satellites — all of that is helpful for situational awareness. I’m excited,” Gossner said.
Christopher Godley, the county emergency management director, said it would be helpful to have “credible intelligence we can count on” in coping with wildfires.
Godley said he was heartened by the spate of wildfire legislation coming “two years past our event.”