California chiefs seek money to prepare for wildfires

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California fire chiefs said Wednesday that reinforcements were too slow to arrive in last year’s ferocious firestorms and asked lawmakers for $100 million to call in extra firefighters when weather conditions are ripe for a conflagration.

The fire chiefs said drought and climate change will cause longer, more severe fire seasons, and the state’s “mutual aid” system for sharing resources across departments can’t keep up.

It took 12 to 24 hours before fire crews began arriving from outside the area when a series of fires swept rapidly through Sonoma and Napa counties, Santa Rosa Fire Chief Tony Gossner said. Have extra firefighters and engines in place before the blazes broke out might have allowed them to keep the fires small, he said.

“We need to be more nimble in the first few hours of these incidents,” Gossner said. “Prepositioned engines, that would have helped. It wouldn’t have solved everything but it would’ve helped.”

Those fires killed 44 people in several counties north of San Francisco and destroyed 8,900 buildings.

Chiefs from across the state spoke in a Senate hearing a day after state emergency management officials released a report saying officials in Sonoma County were ill-prepared, disorganized and lacked sufficient training. They did not address the report, which found that multiple alert systems, overlapping responsibilities and a failure to map out roles appear to have created inconsistent and sometimes confusing messages to the public.