By MADISON HIRNEISEN
THE CENTER SQUARE STAFF REPORTER
(The Center Square) — California could see the addition of more than 1,000 permanent and seasonal firefighters to its force from a bipartisan budget proposal drafted by two state senators.
Sens. Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) and Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) announced last week that they would co-sponsor a budget proposal to increase staffing for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The budget proposal calls for $214.1 million in ongoing funds to increase staffing to about 356 permanent workers and 16 seasonal fuel crews, according to Sen. Grove’s office. According to the Sacramento Bee, the appropriation would increase the number of seasonal firefighters by about 768 positions.
The senators’ proposal would also ensure staffing aligns with the national standard of three firefighters per engine.
“This proposal will be a critical down payment in supporting our firefighters who meet the increasing demands that wildfires have on our state,” Sen. Grove said in a statement on Friday. “Our firefighters continue to battle wildfires of historic proportions and work tirelessly to protect our communities.”
Due to major staffing shortages, Cal Fire firefighters have been working long hours and overtime for weeks on end, sometimes without a single day off in between shifts, according to Sen. Grove. As wildfires continue to devastate communities across the state and are projected to keep getting worse in the coming years, the senators’ proposal aims to relieve staffing shortages ahead of upcoming — and potentially more devastating — fire seasons.
Currently Cal Fire has about 5,190 permanent staff, about 1,300 administrative support positions and funding for about 2,300 seasonal workers, according to Christine McMorrow, a spokesperson for Cal Fire. The budget for the department is about $2.9 billion.
According to Cal Fire data, this year is set to be the second-worst fire season in terms of acres burned, coming in at over 2.5 million acres scorched so far during more than 8,600 incidents. This year is second only to 2020 when more than 9,900 incidents burned more than 4.2 million acres.
On its website, Cal Fire notes that climate change is a “key driver” of longer fire seasons across the West, spurred by warmer spring and summer temperatures, reduced snowpack and earlier spring snowmelt creating more intense dry seasons and making “forests more susceptible to severe wildfire.”
Madison Hirneisen covers California for The Center Square.