California

Amid Growing KNP, Windy Fires, Newsom OKs $1B for Wildfire Prevention

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Flames lick up a tree as the Windy Fire burns in the Trail of 100 Giants grove of sequoias on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. (AP File)
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During a Thursday morning stop to survey the damage caused by the KNP Complex in Sequoia National Park, Gov. Gavin Newsom touted his $15 billion package to corral California’s climate change impacts.

Newsom also approved nearly $1 billion in new spending to prevent wildfires. This marks a shift from the state’s policy of trying to extinguish fires instead of stopping them before they start.

“California is doubling down on our nation-leading policies to confront the climate crisis head-on while protecting the hardest-hit communities,” said Newsom. “We’re deploying a comprehensive approach to meet the sobering challenges of the extreme weather patterns that imperil our way of life and the Golden State as we know it.”

Meanwhile, Tulare County’s intense KNP and Windy fires keep expanding.

Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a stop at fire-ravaged Sequoia National Park on Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021. (Office of Gov. Gavin Newsom)

As of Thursday afternoon, more than 1,500 firefighters were trying to wrestle the 33,046-acre KNP Complex under control. The fire has grown by 4,718 acres during the last 24 hours, officials said.

A new evacuation warning was issued Wednesday for the communities of Eshom and Heartland Camp. There is a map of evacuation orders and warnings at this link.

Tulare County officials followed on Thursday with an evacuation warning for the California Hot Springs and Pine Flat areas. The evacuation warning included M-504 at Tyler Creek, southeast to Pine Flat, west to M-56 and Fire Control Road, and north up Tyler Creek Road.

The Woodlake Community Center, 145 Magnolia St., is serving as a Red Cross evacuation center.

Windy Fire Update

The Windy Fire is 43,745 acres with 6% containment. It is burning on the Tule River Indian Reservation and in the Sequoia National Forest, including the Giant Sequoia National Monument.

Crews are in place in threatened communities with structure protection as their top priority, officials said early Thursday afternoon.

The fire has impacted several giant sequoia groves. On Wednesday, an expert on the effect of fire on giant sequoias from Yosemite National Park visited the Trail of 100 Giants to assess the situation, officials said.

A new mandatory evacuation order was given for Camp Nelson and surrounding communities. No private structures have been lost at Camp Nelson, Ponderosa, and the Tule River Indian Reservation.

However, officials reported that the Sequoia National Forest lost its Mule Peak Lookout and radio repeater — even though they were wrapped in fire-resistant material.

Air Alert Extended

The Valley Air District and the National Weather Service have continued the air quality alert to 11 a.m. Monday, Sept. 27, or until the fire smoke dissipates.

You can access RAAN to check air quality at any Valley location at myRAAN.com, view the EPA AirNow Fire and Smoke map (https://fire.airnow.gov/) and find links to temporary foothill monitors.

Wildfire Protection in California

California spent $3.4 billion on wildfire protection last year, more than quadruple the level 15 years ago. Driving the increased costs is climate change, which is causing fires to get bigger and more destructive. Six of the state’s 10 largest wildfires have come in the past two years.


But state officials have spent the vast majority of that money on extinguishing fires, a job that has become harder as the fires have gotten bigger and hotter. This year, Newsom and the Legislature agreed to dramatically increase spending on prevention.

“Conditions have never been more challenging,” said Wade Crowfoot, secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency. “Expanding our up-front proactive actions is essential to address the wildfire risks we now face.”

Funds for Clearing Brush and Hiring Home Inspectors

Flames from the KNP Complex Fire burn along a hillside above the Kaweah River on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021.  (AP File)

Most of the wildfire prevention money will pay for things like clearing brush and dead trees that act as kindling when fires start, causing them to quickly burn out of control before firefighters can contain them.

There’s money to hire inspectors to make sure newer homes built in the state’s wildfire-prone areas comply with building codes requiring fire-resistant materials. And there’s money for the state to intentionally set fires when conditions are right to burn away fuel that would otherwise help larger fires burn during the dry season.

No Reservoir Funding Included

The money Newsom approved is the final piece of the state’s $262.5 billion operating budget. The spending Newsom approved Thursday also includes $1.2 billion for water recycling projects, cleaning up contaminated water sources, and grants to help communities plan for climate change.

Republicans have criticized the spending because it does not include money for water storage projects, like building new reservoirs. California voters approved about $2.7 billion in 2014 for water storage projects. None have been built.

(Associated Press contributed to this story.)

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