Governor Newsom says pandemic will not slow state’s wildfire battle

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FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE) — California Governor Gavin Newsom says despite a pandemic, wildfire mitigation is still a top priority.

“We’re focused on coronavirus mitigation, trying to do our best to suppress the spread at the same time we’ve got to mitigate and suppress these fires as we move into wildfire season. This is top priority for our state and our legislature and our administration and I want folks to know we are not going to step back despite the economic headwinds. It’s our responsibility to meet this moment as well.”

RELATED: Gov. Newsom provides update on California’s wildfire preparedness amid COVID-19 pandemic

At a fire station near Sacramento, Newsom said the state is advancing wildfire mitigation efforts with 450,000 acres of state land set for fuel management, Cal Fire personnel, 26 new fire trucks, four new command units, and the first of what will be a new fleet of firefighting helicopters (purchased before the pandemic).

The beefing-up of California’s firefighting abilities is concurrent with efforts to protect citizens and first responders from COVID-19.

“You’re dealing with COVID-19 in a crisis in every sector and aspect of our society including our ability to recruit, retain, and keep healthy our workforce. Just the training academy classes for Cal Fire, we have to make those considerations.  But now in compounding these challenges, you have emergency evacuation centers, temporary shelters that come up traditionally in wildfire season that come up and we need to have the capacity to isolate and quarantine individuals that may test positive for COVID-19. We of course have a state of the art mutual aid system that’s very culturally competent and sensitive to the needs of our diverse communities, seniors among others.”

To accomplish this, the state is closely coordinating with agencies on the national and local scale like the American Red Cross.

Executive Director of the Central Valley Chapter of The American Red Cross Lori Wilson says planning and preparation is ongoing.

“Is it safe to do a conjugate shelter with greater spacing and a lot more safety protocols out in? Do we need to look at hoteling people? … Doing health screenings as people are coming in do we need to isolate and quarantine people and things like that,” Wilson said.

Wilson says everyone needs to take new look at their emergency plans and have supplies ready including copies of important documents in case of evacuation.

She says Red Cross volunteers are adapting to helping others remotely.

“One of our Service To Armed Forces volunteers described it best as service to armed forces does much more care over the phone and have for years with emergency communications. She says we have to give the hug over the phone. We can still give it — our compassion and our care and wanting to help.”

Find out more about volunteering remotely or in-person on their website.

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