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Santa Rosa lawmaker’s bill prioritizes wildfire prevention

With another nightmare fire season nearing its peak, California lawmakers unanimously approved and Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed into law a measure that puts a “dedicated workforce” in charge of wildfire prevention and preparedness.

Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Santa Rosa, who authored the bill, said it was needed to improve the state’s burgeoning battle against wildfires.

Despite repeated increases in state firefighting personnel and resources, Wood said in a statement that “year after year … wildfire prevention work has had to take a back seat because our resources have been needed virtually full time to fight fires.”

Noting that more than 2 million acres have been scorched this year and “entire communities have been lost,” Wood said that “for all the effort California puts into making progress protecting our environment and improving air quality, these wildfires are taking it away from us and that has to stop.”

Seven of the state’s 20 deadliest blazes, which have killed 151 people, have raged since 2017, he noted. The Camp fire, which took 85 lives and demolished the Butte County town of Paradise in 2018, tops the list.

The bill, AB 9, which passed unanimously in the Senate (38-0) and Assembly (79-0), was signed by the governor last week.

It was among the 11 bills cited by CapRadio as noteworthy among about 900 new laws approved before the legislative session ended Sept. 10.

The bill creates a new branch within the Office of the State Fire Marshal that will focus year-round exclusively on community fire prevention, including wildfire fuel reduction and home hardening.

It moves eight existing programs currently spread throughout Cal Fire, the state firefighting agency, into the new branch.

“It’s our only way out of this endless cycle of wildfire disasters,” Wood said

“I think this is a huge step for the state,” said Lynda Hopkins, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors chair.

Wood, whose district extends from Santa Rosa to the Oregon border, has been “a consistent champion of wildfire risk reduction,” she said.

Hopkins noted that local Cal Fire officials have urged creation of “a better battlefield” to protect against wildfires, including fuel breaks and prescribed burns.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @guykovner.

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