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Flora: Use $22B state surplus to reduce risk of deadly wildfires

Assemblyman Heath Flora believes inaction by the state is responsible in part for deadly and destructive wildfires that have savaged much of California in recent years.

“PG&E doesn’t get off the hook,” the Ripon Republican said of the for-profit utility that he empathized during the past 20 years has conducted itself in a manner that deserves the lack of trust that ratepayers have in the utility.

But Flora noted that while PG&E appears to be trying to change the corporate culture that has led to destructive events such as the November 2018 Butte County Fire that the utility concedes their faulty and insufficiently maintained equipment likely started that killed people, destroyed 14,000 homes, and burned another 5,000 structures the state is failing to step up.

Flora has been pushing for the state to establish an aggressive vegetation management plan designed to within 10 years to take all wildfire prone areas in California to the point that routine annual and fairly low key maintenance efforts will keep the fire danger at a minimum.

He believes there is no need to impose a new tax to get the job done given California is sitting on a $22 billion budget surplus.

“If preventing California from being (ravaged by) wildfires, isn’t a top priority for spending some of the surplus, I don’t know what is,” Flora said.

He believes a directive to establish a state-led vegetation management program working closely with federal agencies that control large swaths of California wilderness will allow details to be hammered out and a plan presented to the legislature and governor for implementation.

No other elected official in Sacramento, however, seems to think much of the idea of the state taking a role or even in some cases taking aim at vegetation management — overgrown brush, weeds, grass, and trees provide the fuel that feeds wildfires — as equally key to utilities replacing aging equipment and maintaining what they have in place.

Flora is arguably the only legislator with firsthand experience when it comes to wildfires.

Prior to being elected to the Assembly, Flora worked as a firefighter including a stint with Cal Fire stationed in the Valley Springs and san Andreas area of Calaveras County.

He has fought wildfires on various strike teams throughout the state.

Flora said if one simply looked at photos over the past 75 years of places like Yosemite Valley they will see that the stance m any environmentalists have against prescribed fires — those that are deliberately set and then controlled to reduce the fuel load by burning off thick shrubbery and such while avoiding damage to trees — is a more significance contribution to the increase in destructive wildfires than climate change.

“One major fire such as the Camp Fire in Butte County wipes out years of whatever gains we had from green policies (to improve air quality).” Flora said.

Flora noted that many of his colleagues are reluctant to reluctant to question — let alone  take on — the environmental movement on wildfire issues.

Flora noted that the advent of increased development in wildfire prone areas that are not resort areas but rural locations where the cost of living is cheaper is fueled by rising housing costs in areas like San Joaquin County brought on by economic pressures from the even higher priced Bay Area that has forced many valley resident to move into wildfire areas in order to afford shelter costs.

It has created situations where there are essentially small cities such as Paradise built among pine trees and other vegetation.

Flora noted that for the first five or so hours of the Butte County fire little water was put on fires or even trying to contain it as all resources where focused on trying to save lives.

Flora noted the bulldozing of 12-foot wide fire breaks long before the wildfire starts had been effective in preventing the start of or rapid spread of wildfires. He added that is why bulldozers are an essential tool combatting wildfires when they start.

Environmentalist strenuously object to pro-active fire breaks created through the use of bulldozers based on environmental damages that they create.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email