Wednesday, April 14, 2021 - 09:45

California will authorize $536 million for wildfire mitigation and forest management projects before the worst of the fire season strikes later this year, Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders said.

That more than doubles $200 million in recent annual spending, advocates said, and wildfire preparedness grants were dropped entirely last year when the state prematurely anticipated a pandemic-driven budget shortfall.

Armed now with an unexpected multi-billion-dollar surplus, lawmakers plan to add the money to this fiscal year’s budget before considering even more in the new spending plan that takes effect July 1.

“With California facing another extremely dry year, it is critical that we get a head start on reducing our fire risk,” Newsom and his fellow Democrats who lead the Assembly and Senate said in a joint statement.

They’re rushing to thin forests, build fuel breaks around vulnerable communities and allow for planned burns before a dry winter turns into a tinder-dry summer. Last year’s record-setting wildfire season charred more than 4% of the state while destroying nearly 10,500 buildings and killing 33 people.

Earlier this month, the governor used his emergency powers to authorize nearly $81 million to hire nearly 1,400 additional firefighters. In January, Newsom proposed spending $323 million this spring on forest health and fire prevention projects, with another $1 billion in next year’s budget.

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