California Earmarks $1B to Prevent Wildfires as State Contends with Growing Threat

California has earmarked nearly $1 billion in new spending to prevent wildfires as the state contends with the growing threat of bigger and more destructive fires from climate change.

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday approved funding for preventing wildfires before they start, a dramatic change in policy as the state has historically focused on funding efforts to extinguish the flames. However, fires have become more difficult to put out, and six of the state's 10 largest wildfires have happened in the past two years.

Last year, California spent $3.4 billion on wildfire protection, more than quadruple the amount 15 years ago. A majority of that money was spent putting out fires, so Newsom and the state Legislature agreed to shift funding efforts this year instead towards prevention.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

California Wildfires
Gov. Gavin Newsom has approved nearly $1 billion in new funding to help prevent wildfires before they start. The Windy Fire blazes through the Long Meadow Grove of giant sequoia trees near The Trail of 100 Giants overnight in Sequoia National Forest on Sept. 21, 2021 near California Hot Springs, Calif. David McNew/Getty Images

The initial outlay was about $500 million but with a record-breaking budget surplus they were able to add nearly $1 billion more for a total of $1.5 billion.

Newsom signed the spending bill at Sequoia National Park, where some of the world's oldest and largest sequoias have been threatened by wildfire in recent days.

"Conditions have never been more challenging," said Wade Crowfoot, secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency. "Expanding our up-front proactive actions is essential to address the wildfire risks we now face."

Scientists have long warned that the weather will get wilder as the world warms. Climate change has made the West much warmer and drier in the past 30 years.

Most of the wildfire prevention money will pay for things like clearing brush and dead trees that act as kindling when fires start, causing them to quickly burn out of control before firefighters can contain them.

There's money to hire inspectors to make sure newer homes built in the state's wildfire-prone areas comply with building codes requiring fire-resistant materials. And there's money for the state to intentionally set fires when conditions are right to burn away fuel that would otherwise help larger fires burn during the dry season.

The money Newsom approved is the final piece of the state's $262.5 billion operating budget. The spending Newsom approved Thursday also includes $1.2 billion for things like water recycling projects, cleaning up contaminated water sources and grants to help communities plan for climate change.

Republicans have criticized the spending because it does not include money for water storage projects, like building new reservoirs. California voters approved about $2.7 billion in 2014 for water storage projects. But so far, none of those have been built.

California Fire Prevention
California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021, approved nearly $1 billion in new spending to prevent wildfires, signaling a policy shift in a state that historically focused more on putting out fires than stopping them before they start. In this Sept. 19, 2021, file photo firefighter Austin Cia sprays water as the Windy Fire burns in the Trail of 100 Giants grove in Sequoia National Forest, Calif. Noah Berger, File/AP Photo