California legislators move to give state more federal resources for wildfires

A new bill in congress, spearheaded by California legislators, aims to put the destruction from forest fires on the same footing as other national disasters.

The CZU Lightning Complex fires in August and Sept. of 2020 cut a path of destruction across San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties.

"We need to give local governments and first responders all the tools that they need to both fight wildfires when they happen, to protect communities to the extent that we can before a disaster," said U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla, (D) Calif.

Thursday in San Jose, Padilla, U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, (D) CA-19 and others came together in celebration of the passage of Padilla’s Fire Act.

The bill would enable FEMA to put wildfire preparedness and response on equal footing with other disasters, such as hurricanes, tornadoes and floods. The agency would be able to pre-deploy its teams during times of high-risk. And improve relocation assistance for people who are affected. 

"If you look at the climate crisis and wildfire preparedness, it truly is a huge puzzle. And this fire act I would argue, is a key piece to that puzzle by bringing in federal resources," said Cal Fire Asst. Chief Jake Hess.

The fire act has a companion bill, the disaster fairness and equity act. That addresses needs of underserved communities in times of disaster. But that bill still hasn’t passed the senate. If it does, it too would go to the house. Right now, the fire act will go through a process known as reconciliation, and then passage.

"Climate change has changed wildfires in California and throughout the west. And we’ve got to do something about that," said Lofgren.

She said she’s confident the House will pass the bill, and send to the president’s desk for his signature.

"It’s clear the federal government needs to be a better partner," said Padilla, standing in front of fire engines from both Cal Fire, and the Santa Clara County Fire Dept.

Experts said while disaster relief makes good politics, taking action to make the process better outweighs political concerns. And, could prevent the next major disaster.

Jesse Gary is a reporter based in the station's South Bay bureau. Follow him on Twitter, @JesseKTVU and Instagram @jessegontv