Newsom: 'Wildfire Safety Division' will oversee utilities

With a fire truck as his backdrop in El Dorado County, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday laid out some of the state’s emergency preparedness actions ahead of the upcoming fire season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Just this week alone, he said, there have been 246 wildfires in the state. 

His big announcement was that the Public Utilities Commission is building a team of 106 employees, who will comprise the Wildfire Safety Division. 

Eventually, Newsom said this division will become an independent entity and will oversee the state's three investor-owned utilities, including Pacific Gas & Electric, which is still in bankruptcy.  

The other two are Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric. 

The safety division, created in 2019, is tasked with overseeing utilities’ safety plans. Over the years, California officials have found utility equipment to be the cause of some major wildfires.

"We are not stepping back our efforts, we are stepping them up," Newsom said. "Even with COVID-19, we are mindful of the threats, we are mindful of the understandable anxiety."

Newsom said he will reveal is budget proposal on Thursday, which will have wildfire preparation enhancements.

Specifically, Newsom said will work with the Legislature to find $87.5 million to give to CalFire to hire 600 personnel and a $17.3 million budget increase for California's Office of Emergency Services to improve its earthquake early warning system.

In addition, Newsom said, the state will get 26 new fire engines and BlackHawk helicopters.