SACRAMENTO -- Fire season came a month early this year, and, citing climate change, Gov. Jerry Brown said Monday that Californians must be prepared to become accustomed to it.
"Our climate is changing. The weather is becoming more intense," Brown said at a news conference at Cal Fire's aviation facility. "Fire season has grown over the last four years. It's gotten longer and larger."
Saying the federal government has done little to slow the buildup of greenhouse gases that scientists say contributes to climate change, Brown said the state has to be prepared for long-term changes.
"The big issue: How do we adapt?" he said. "Adapting is going to be very, very expensive."
Monday's event had been scheduled months ago to mark the beginning of an annual state Wildfire Awareness Week, but this year the arrival of awareness week came as Californians were aware that wildfire season was upon them.
The 28,000-acre Springs Fire in Camarillo is the largest of 1,100 wildfires that have flared in the state this year.
"It's time to prepare your home for wildfires. The time was actually yesterday," said Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott.
Pimlott said the number of wildfires this year is nearly double the average for early May. From January through May 2 -- the day the Springs Fire began -- nearly 23,000 acres had burned statewide, more than 10 times the total at the same point last year.
Emergency fire suppression costs from the state's general fund have topped $220 million in four of the past six fiscal years. This fiscal year, $221 million has been spent, with eight weeks remaining.
In only two of the past 10 years has the amount budgeted for emergency fire suppression covered the costs, Finance Department figures show. The annual amount budgeted has climbed to $93 million this year from $55 million in 2001-02.
Natural Resources Secretary John Laird said that because of the importance of public safety the state will spend whatever is necessary.
"We will do whatever it takes to fight the fires," he said.
Because the final snow survey measured statewide snowpack water content at 17 percent of normal and the National Weather Service identified nearly all of California as having greater than normal potential for large fires this year, Laird said, state officials authorized Cal Fire to increase its staffing for fire season on April 15, a month ahead of schedule.
On Monday, the Cal Fire airfield that in the spring would customarily be housing most of the department's fleet of 50 airplanes and helicopters was nearly empty, as they have been sent to fires around the state.
Gen. David Baldwin, commander of the California National Guard, said his troops are ready to provide any help needed.
"We're prepared for a long haul over the summer," he said.
The annual awareness week is designed to tell homeowners about the importance of maintaining 100 feet of defensible space around their homes and hardening them with fire-resistant materials. The agency has an informational website, ReadyforWildfire.org.
"At the end of the day, you are our best defense," said Mark Ghilarducci, secretary of the Emergency Management Agency.
As Brown left the news conference, a reporter asked whether he had any plans to visit the fire site in Ventura County.
"I can't tell you today," he said as he walked away.
(c)2013 Ventura County Star (Camarillo, Calif.)
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