In recent months, as California officials started to calculate the fire danger posed by the state’s prolonged and historic drought, they tucked an extra $23 million into the Cal Fire emergency wildfire budget for the fiscal year that began July 1, bringing its total to $209 million.
By July 6 – just days into the fiscal year – the agency already had spent $13.9 million battling two major blazes, and is now bracing for one of the longest and most difficult fire seasons in memory.
“That’s just the first week, and we still have 51 more weeks to go,” said Daniel Berlant, spokesman for Cal Fire, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “We’re not even to the peak of the fire season yet.”
Berlant and top fire officials have been warning for months that the state faces serious peril from wildland fires this year, as the drought – stretching into a third year – has sucked dry much of the state’s brush lands and forests more quickly than in years with more normal precipitation levels.