Fire crews

Holly Quan/KCBS Radio

Fighting Fires Before They Break Out

"Pre-Positioning" Gets a Boost

Jenna Lane
August 01, 2018 - 7:27 am

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS Radio) -- Many fire chiefs around California want to "pre-position" strike teams before wildfires erupt, something that costs about $50,000 a day.

And those fire planners are calling the budget California Governor Jerry Bown signed last month  a good first step.

A coalition of fire chiefs has been pushing for more state funding to pre-position firefighters where and when fire danger is greatest. Tiburon Fire Protection District  Chief Richard Pearce said modern weather technology makes wildfire easier to predict. "The sooner we get there," said Pearce, "the sooner we can make an assertive fire attack."

 The chiefs have been pushing for a more aggressive approach to wildfires: setting up strike teams before fires break out, instead of relying solely on mutual aid, in which resources are called in from other agencies, after the flames appear.

The 100-year-old idea of a fire lookout tower, where a person scans the horizon for smoke and sounds the alarm, can seem quaint to the firefighters of today who keep saying  that wildfires now make their own weather, and travel at freeway speed.

At the Carr Fire near Redding, CAL FIRE's Calfire's Mike Hebrard said, "The fire ran with such ferocity. There were winds, 70 plus mile an hour winds. Tornado-like winds going through. You're seeing trees uprooted, sticking up. You see roofs ripped off houses. The fire didn't do that. The wind did."

The coalition got $25 million in the new state budget after requesting $100 million and is working now on clarifying the rules for spending those dollars on pre-positioning.