Some South Bay communities receive state funding for wildfire prevention

Some South Bay communities are getting millions of dollars from the state to help with wildland fire prevention.

Local and state leaders made the announcement Saturday, and gave some insight into how the money will be spent.

The beneficiaries are communities in the western part of Santa Clara County, an area referred to as the west valley.

The communities worked together to lobby for more state aid for fire prevention.

Assemblyman Evan Low and other state and local leaders gathered at the Los Gatos Food and Wine Fest to show off a big check cut by the state.

$7 million have been carved out of California’s budget and given to communities in the west valley, places like Los Gatos, Saratoga, and Campbell, to name a few.

"This money will be used specifically to create a wildland specialist program that will help create defensible space in our communities overseen by our fearless leaders at the Santa Clara County Fire Department," said Assemblyman Low.

Battalion Chief Mike Mathiesen is in charge of Santa Clara County’s pre-fire management, and says it’s proven prevention more than pays for itself in the long run.

He says the state funds will help pay for community wildfire specialists to work with homeowners, educating them on prevention methods like creating defensible space around a property.

"Nothing that can catch fire within zero to five feet of your house, that includes wood piles, that includes ornamental brush, mulch and from five to 15 you’re limiting and thinning if you live in a forested area," said Mathiesen.

In 2020, the CZU fire in Santa Cruz and San Mateo Counties scorched more than 80,000 acres and destroyed nearly 1,500 structures.

Firefighters say bigger, more frequent fires are likely part of the new norm, and the money helps residents prepare to safely deal with it.

US Congresswoman Anna Eshoo says more money is in the pipeline, part of the historic $3.5 trillion federal Build Back Better Act, with billions set aside for firefighting.

"And California being a nation-state will have a major influx of these funds to fight wildfires," said Eshoo.

Some of those funds will help with things like fuel reduction and putting utility lines underground.

Santa Clara County firefighters say they plan to put the state money they’re receiving to work by next spring, in advance of the 2022 fire season.