USA — California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger made his third visit to Shasta County in two weeks on Thursday, July 10, to obtain a front-line briefing on firefighting efforts.
He also took time out to personally thank some of the nearly 1,500 bone-weary firefighters resting at the Shasta District Fair grounds in Anderson. Just 20 days shy of his 62nd birthday, the former Hollywood action hero and bodybuilder donned white rubber gloves and, wielding a pair of tongs, served up slices of ham to a handful of Whitmore and Mendocino-area firefighters whose faces and arms were still visibly covered with black soot.
These California firefighters are the best-trained, best-equipped and most highly-qualified firefighters in the country, and I want to personally thank them for their long hours of hard work, sometimes 24 hours or more at a time, in protecting our citizens, their property and their homes from these wild land fires, Schwarzenegger told reporters afterward.
During an ensuing press conference, Schwarzenegger also publicly called on federal officials including President George Bush for additional resources in fighting ongoing wildfires sparked by lightning storms on June 21 and 22. Those fires had grown to char nearly 58,500 acres of privately-owned land by the time the Governor sent a letter Wednesday to the President and key U.S. Senate leaders including Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.
With more lightning storms forecast for later this week, we sit at a critical tipping point in California that requires immediate federal help and aggressive pre-positioning of federal resources, reads a portion of the governors letter.
As of July 8, California had placed requests with the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, for 302 hand crews of about 22 persons each, 41 helicopters, 616 fire engines and 773 support personnel.
In addition, we are calling on NFIC daily for additional air tankers that are critical to suppressing the flames, Schwarzeneggers letter continued.
Answering the call in Shasta County as of Thursday were 1,599 firefighters representing 23 hand crews, 11 helicopters, four fixed-wing aircraft, 44 water tenders, 39 bulldozers and 197 engines. So far, 112 of the 148 fires sparked by lightning have been contained, 43 have merged into three large fires currently considered active, the Governor announced. There have been 36 injuries reported so far, although no one has died from any fire-related accidents. Ten structures including three residences have been reported destroyed and an additional four damaged.
I extend Californias thanks to the National Guard and the U.S. Department of Defense for making key aviation assets available to California. To date, I have ordered hundreds of California National Guardsmen to the fire fighting front lines and anticipate calling up more, the governor continued.
However, Californias troops can only absorb so much of this responsibility while maintaining their ability to respond to the additional requirements of the existing fire emergency and other potential missions and emergencies, Schwarzenegger wrote.
Paraphrasing his letter for reporters, the governor said he was asking for an additional 2,000 to 4,000 National Guard troops to be trained, at federal expense and by federal experts, in Type II firefighting.
We cannot spare the in-state firefighting resources necessary to train these troops, Schwarzenegger said.
The California governor also briefly outlined a $140-million initiative that he said would go a long way in helping Californians pay for additional firefighting resources.
As part of his 2008-2009 May budget revise, the governor is calling for an emergency responder surcharge of approximately $1 per month per household that would fund full peak-season staffing of 336 fire engines with 1,100 seasonal firefighters and ensure that the states Office of Emergency Services (OES) would have the ability to respond to other disasters such as earthquakes, mudslides, drought, flooding and extreme temperatures with a network of warning centers that would in turn notify emergency first responders throughout the state.
It was Schwarzeneggers sixth trip to Northern California since the fires broke out late last month and his second personal appearance at the sprawling California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal-FIRE) Incident Command Center in Anderson.
The states 38th governor and his 12-member entourage flew into Redding Municipal Airport aboard a 19-passenger Gulfstream IV business jet a few minutes before 9:30 a.m. They loaded into a pair of black SUVs accompanied by two CHP patrol cruisers and two BMW motorcycle units for the short motorcade to the fairgrounds raceway entrance.
After more than 90 minutes in Anderson, the governors motorcade then proceeded to Redding and a brief visit to a Red Cross emergency shelter set up at the Shasta Learning Center currently housing 20 families evacuated from the Ono area of south-western Shasta County.