California Lawmakers to Hold Hearings and Examine State’s Response to North Bay Fires

Posted in Blog on November 21, 2017

Beginning in December, California lawmakers will hold a series of hearings to evaluate the state’s response to the North Bay Fires that began on October 8, claiming the lives of at least 43 people and destroyed nearly 9,000 homes and structures. The hearings are intended to address inadequacies in the state’s mutual-aid system designed to quickly coordinate first responders, and will allow lawmakers the opportunity to examine what changes are needed and at what cost.

On December 4 and December 14, the Joint Legislative Committee on Emergency Management and the Assembly Communications and Conveyance Committee has planned hearings to examine how residents were notified of the fire emergency and how well local and state officials responded. Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, who chairs the Legislative Committee on Emergency Management, said the statewide mutual-aid system for handling fire requests may be “inadequate,” particularly given that the state’s fire season is growing longer and more destructive.

Senator Bill Dodd, who chairs the Senate Governmental Organization, is also planning hearings in January 2018 to specifically examine whether policy changes are needed and will pay particular attention to the mutual-aid system that’s designed to quickly bring in support crews from other regions to protect homes and save lives in the event of a wildfire.

According to a story recently published by the San Francisco Chronicle, officials in Sonoma and Napa counties requested help through statewide mutual-aid during the early hours of the North Bay Fires and although help arrived, it wasn’t nearly enough or what was requested. Data obtained by the publication showed commanders in those counties requested 305 fire engines from other jurisdictions but only 130 engines arrived to help in the two deadliest blazes during the first 12 hours. In Mendocino County, no engines were sent from the mutual-aid program during the first day, despite a request for 15 engines.

As the publication reports, many requests for help through the state’s mutual-aid system have gone unanswered in recent years. Although officials at the Office of Emergency Services did not provide the total number of calls for aid, they said only 134 requests for fire engines or water tenders went unfilled during the 2012 fire season. That number has climbed ever since, hitting 3,029 last year.

Click here to read the full San Francisco Chronicle story.

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