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Gavin Newsom strikes wildfire deal to put $536 million toward home-hardening, prevention

Gavin Newsom strikes wildfire deal to put $536 million toward home-hardening, prevention

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Hennessey Fire

Jerry Kuny makes a phone call as flames from the LNU Lightning Complex fires approached in rural Napa County on Aug. 18, 2020.

With California likely facing another brutal wildfire season, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a deal with legislative leaders Thursday on $536 million in additional funding to increase fire prevention in the parched state.

While the Legislature has increased Cal Fire's budget by hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years, adding additional helicopters, airplanes and firefighters, Thursday's agreement centers largely on money for increasing the resiliency of California's forests and other vulnerable areas.

Although exact funding details weren't immediately available, the money will go toward forestry management, improvements in defensible space around rural homes, vegetation management. The agreement also provides money for "home hardening" — the desperately needed retrofitting of homes in wildfire-prone areas.

The agreement comes on the heels of the worst wildfire season in modern California history, in which more than 4 million acres burned across the state. The deal also follows Newsom's signature on a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Forest Service last summer, in which both governments agreed to dramatically increase forest management.

A second straight dry winter has plunged California into drought-like conditions and sets the stage for another potentially difficult wildfire season. Newsom, who is likely facing a recall vote over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and other issues, saw his approval ratings falter in October 2019, amid a massive wildfire in Sonoma County and a series of major blackouts imposed by PG&E Corp. in an effort to lower fire risks.

Of the 20 most destructive wildfires in California history, 12 have burned since 2017. Of those fires, five burned at least in part in Napa Co…

Last fall, after the North Complex fire killed 15 people in the Butte County community of Berry Creek, Newsom visited the area and announced measures to ramp up the state's fight against climate change, which he blamed for the rash of 2020 fires.

"With California facing another extremely dry year, it is critical that we get a head start on reducing our fire risk. We are doing that by investing more than half a billion dollars on projects and programs that provide improved fire prevention for all parts of California," said a joint statement from Newsom, Senate President pro Tem Toni Atkins and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon.

Included in the package is money for home hardening, an issue that has taken on increasing importance in recent years. After the 2018 Camp Fire destroyed most of Paradise, an investigation by McClatchy found that newer homes — built to California's exacting wildfire-resilience standards — were more likely to survive the fire than older homes.

The package, if approved by the Legislature, will be funded with $411 million in general fund money and $125 million from the state's greenhouse gas reduction program. The greenhouse gas program is largely funded by large industrial companies that have to buy credits through the state's cap-and-trade program, which is designed to curtail carbon emissions.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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