GLENN COUNTY, Calif. (KTXL) — Members of the Biden administration met with Gov. Gavin Newsom in Glenn County Wednesday as the federal government promises to step up its firefighting resources.
The governor, the U.S. agriculture secretary and the new fire chief for the U.S. Forest Service arrived at a hazy Mendocino Forest, which was the site of the August Complex fires — California’s largest fire ever recorded.
“We have to have more boots on the ground, and I pledge to you and commit to you that will happen,” said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
Vilsack vowed to boost federal resources to respond to and prevent wildfires.
“We need to make sure that our firefighters are better compensated. Governor, that will happen,” Vilsack said. “We need to do a better job and more of forest management to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire. Governor, that’s going to happen.”
Vilsack’s promises come as Congress debates the federal infrastructure bill, what he said could be a downpayment of billions toward boosting the needed resources.
U.S. Forest Service Chief Randy Moore said his agency is preparing.
“We’re trying to organize now so we can be more a little bit more strategic and not get caught off guard,” Moore said. “Our expectation is Congress will pass the bill, and our expectation is to be able to provide as quick as we possibly can.”
But Vilsack couldn’t give a specific timeline on how soon California could see the specific changes. He said improvements will begin when the federal fiscal budget is set Oct. 1.
“You’re going to see significant improvement and significant effort and significant work in the next fiscal year, late ‘21, early ‘22,” he said.
The commitment came as the governor and federal leaders took in the site of last year’s August Complex. Smoke hung in the dry air from fires now burning further north. Gov. Newsom said California is working to contain nine large, active wildfires.
“A simultaneous crises of not only drought, impacted by climate, extreme heat, extreme weather, dry soil conditions, but also energy reliability,” Newsom said.
While he’s encouraged by promises from the Biden administration, Cal Fire Chief Thom Porter said it could take 10 to 20 years before firefighting resources catch up with the intensity of recent fires.
“We don’t have a choice because that’s what it’s going to take,” Porter said. “It took us 100 years to get here, it’s going to take us decades to work our way out of it and a continuous effort to do so.”