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California highlights priority areas for thinning to prevent deadly fires

By Clyde Hughes
California highlights priority areas for thinning to prevent deadly fires
Marie Elchysyhn, 87, is comforted by Los Angeles County Sheriff Lieutenant Jennifer Seetoo while standing in front of the ruins of her home on Sherwood Road in Westlake Village, California, on Nov. 13, 2018. Cal Fire has identified 35 areas for forestry thinning this year before the warmer months. File Photo by John McCoy/UPI | License Photo

March 6 (UPI) -- The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said in a new report that it has created a priority list of vegetation to be thinned out to lessen the extent of deadly wildfires in the state.

Nearly 150 died and thousands of homes were destroyed in California wildfires over the past two years. President Donald Trump blamed poor forestry management for the fires while others have pointed to climate change.

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The department, best known as Cal Fire, said that years of drought spurred by global warming and extreme winds led to "an unprecedented" buildup of dry vegetation that helped strengthen the wildfires for the past two years.

"In total, Cal Fire identified 35 priority projects that can be implemented immediately to help reduce public safety risk for over 200 communities," the report said. "Project examples include removal of hazardous dead trees, vegetation clearing, creation of fuel breaks and community defensible spaces, and creation of ingress and egress corridors. These projects can be implemented immediately if recommendations in this report are taken to enable the work."

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Cal Fire said it came up with its recommendations by trying to determine physical wildfire risks around communities and the socioeconomic characteristics of those communities to understand the relative vulnerability of each one.

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New California Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed $305 million in new wildfire funding for Cal Fire in his first budget. Shortly after he took office, he sign an executive order for the department to produce the report on what the state can do in response to the blazes.

Last year's Camp Fire that started in Butte County became the deadliest in the state's history, killing 86 people and destroying 18,804 structures. Overall in 2018, emergency crews battled 7,600 wildfires that burned 1.8 million square miles.

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Cal Fire spokeswoman Amy Head said that while the department always had a priority list, that it was now "upping the pace and scale. We'll have more equipment and personnel with more funding."

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