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California Senate passes bills promoting firefighting technology research, prescribed burning

The California Senate has passed two bills authored by state Sen. Bill Dodd to address the growing wildfire threat through more advanced firefighting technology and by easing the path to wider use of prescribed fire.

Senate Bill 109 would create the Office of Wildfire Technology Research and Development within the state Office of Emergency Services. Its purpose would be to work with public, private and nonprofit entities to study, produce and test innovative firefighting technologies and make recommendations to Cal Fire and regional fire agencies that might advance efforts to detect and respond to fires.

Examples might include artificial intelligence developed to perform wildfire modeling and mapping to help guide deployment of firefighting resources or drones that could fly above fires and sense subtle winds to predict where firefighting forces would be prepositioned, a Dodd spokesman said.

Drones also have been used to deploy incendiary devices to set backfires and deprive advancing flames of fuels in otherwise inaccessible areas.

Advancements also could be made to existing fire detection and suppression techniques, including fire detection cameras, communication equipment and deployment of fire retardant, Dodd’s office said.

Senate Bill 332 would help promote prescribed burning as a firefighting and land management tool by making insurance more accessible to certified burn bosses. It would establish new liability standards and hold those bosses responsible for costs of an escaped fires only in cases that constitute “gross negligence.”

Controlled burns overseen by experts are considered a cost-efficient means of keeping fuel loads down and creating fire breaks that can help save lives and property.

“With these votes, we take a big step toward protecting Californians from devastating wildfires,” said Dodd, D-Napa. “We know prescribed burning is one of the most effective means of prevention, so it makes sense to expand that practice. At the same time, we must tap California’s innovative spirit to find new ways to control fire, which is why research and development is key. I thank my Senate colleagues for their support on these two proposals.”

The two bills now move on to consideration by the Assembly.

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

Mary Callahan

Environment and Climate Change, The Press Democrat

I am in awe of the breathtaking nature here in Sonoma County and am so grateful to live in this spectacular region we call home. I am amazed, too, by the expertise in our community and by the commitment to protecting the land, its waterways, its wildlife and its residents. My goal is to improve understanding of the issues, to find hope and to help all of us navigate the future of our environment. 

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