Friday, October 8, 2021 - 08:30

California is encouraging more use of fire to fight fire, such as when deliberately set burns were recently used to protect giant sequoias from a raging wildfire.

But sometimes what are known as prescribed fires themselves spread out of control, causing their own extensive damage.

A bill that Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law Wednesday adds legal protections for private landowners and those who manage the blazes by raising the legal standard for seeking wildfire suppression costs from simple negligence to gross negligence.

Such costs can include not only fighting the fire, but related rescues and investigations.

Entities like Native American tribes and community fire safe councils must generally use professional, certified “burn bosses” or government forestry officers to plan and manage the controlled blazes. While government employees are generally already protected from liability, the new law makes it more difficult to sue private burn bosses.

The burns must be for wildfire hazard reduction, ecological maintenance and restoration, cultural burning, forest management or agriculture.

Opponents said the liability change leaves wildfire victims “with a more difficult and less efficient cost recovery process.”

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