800,000 will be getting billed to help fight wildfires
By Alice Daniel
It’s fire season in California. The blazes may not be big enough to draw national TV news crews, but pulling from the top of CAL FIRE’s news feed it’s easy to see the agency is busy.
There’s the Volcano Fire in Riverside County, the Salt Creek Fire in Shasta, the Graham Fire in Tuolumne. Demand for services is as big as it’s ever been, but CAL FIRE has not been spared from budget cuts, which explains a new bill that roughly 800,000 rural homeowners, those who live in the most fire-prone areas, will soon have to pay.
The legislature-approved fee is up to $150 per home and should generate $84 million per year, says CAL FIRE spokesperson Daniel Berlant.
“All that money will go towards fire prevention in the state responsibility area,” Berlant said. “The most notable activities include brush clearance, forest health, fuel reduction.”
A recent state report on climate change says hotter temperatures already are causing more and larger fires. Berlant says 11 of the top 20 largest fires recorded in California have occurred in the past decade. “Even this year, we’ve seen about twice as many fires as we did last year. And that does have us concerned and does have us very busy this year,” said Berlant.
They’re doing it with less money — CAL FIRE’s budget has been slashed in recent years. “CAL FIRE has taken some major budget reductions over the past couple of years. Almost $80 million in the last year-and-a-half, including to seasonal firefighters,” said Berlant. We’ve reduced the number of firefighters on an engine, we’ve closed one of our air tanker bases.
There is some opposition to the fee. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association contends that it is an illegal tax. It says it will sue the state to have the charges refunded. Meanwhile the bills are slated to go out between now and December.