Sacramento, CA…CHIEF WALTERS: Good morning. Im Del Walters, the director and chief of CAL FIRE and I want to thank you all for joining us today to recognize Wildfire Awareness Week. Were very, very pleased to have the Governor of our state here today and, in addition to the Governor, we have some other people that I would like to acknowledge. With us today is the man I work for, Secretary Mike Chrisman, the California Natural Resources Agency…
We have Matthew Bettenhausen, acting Secretary, California Emergency Management Agency; Major General William H. Wade of the National Guard; we have Secretary Karen Baker, Secretary of Service of Volunteering; we have Mayor Ruth Asmundson, city of Davis; Kate Dargan, State Fire Marshal of California; Frank McCarton, Undersecretary, California Emergency Management Agency; we have Bob Wolf, the president of CDF firefighters; Ken Massucco is with us, Fire Chief, Marin County Fire Department; Dr. Steve Tharratt, California Emergency Services Authority; and Jim Peña, Deputy Regional Forester, the United States Forest Service; and Ed Hollenshead, the Director of Fire and Aviation Management for California, of the United States Forest Service.
Every spring speculation begins regarding impending wildfire activity. Some years are much worse than others, but a catastrophic fire can occur in California any summer or fall. Recently weve seen larger and more damaging wildfires occurring in our state. Both 2007 and 2008 were historic years; in my career, which spans 38 years of firefighting, Ive never seen two sieges back-to-back. I certainly hope its not a trend, but I assure you that we are prepared.
Weeks ago an assessment of fire conditions in California indicated we were three to five weeks ahead of schedule. The rain weve experienced in parts of the state will provide a temporary relief, but the stage has already been set.
When we say you provide the defense, we provide the offense, we mean that were all in this together. People living in fire-prone areas have responsibility for their own safety and protection of their homes by providing clearance around structures and planning in advance for evacuations. Know what you would take if you only had 10 minutes to leave and know where you will go.
We, including my Emergency Service partners that are here with me today, have the responsibility to be ready to work together to put out fires and respond to other emergencies quickly. That requires training our people, ensuring our equipment is reliable and that we are organized. I want to commend all of you for the important role you play in emergency response. Thank you.
Today Im honored to introduce a man who has actively proven his commitment to the safety of the people of California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. (Applause)
GOVERNOR SCHWARZENEGGER: Well, thank you very much, CAL FIRE Chief Del Walters for the great introduction and the great words that you said. And also, thank you very much for letting us use and hosting this event here at one of your stations. We really appreciate that.
Also thank you to Secretary Mike Chrisman for being with us today and saying a few words afterwards. And General Wade, thank you very much and also thank you for the great work you have done, how you jumped into action last year when we needed the National Guard to help us with the firefighting with 2,000 fires, so thank you very much for that.
And Secretary Karen Baker is here. Thank you for being here today, because volunteers are very important when it comes to fighting fires and to work right along with the firefighters. Then, of course, our Secretary Matt Bettenhausen, who now refuses to shake hands with me, only gives me the elbow, so that we dont transmit germs or anything like that. (Laughter) So hes a little bit over the top, but it doesnt matter. Hes a good guy, hes a good guy. (Laughter)
But anyway, it is great to be here today and to talk a little bit about Wildfire Awareness Week. First of all, let me just say that we are very fortunate that we are all living in the most beautiful place in the world, there are no two ways about it. I have traveled all over the world, this is the most beautiful spot, and this is why people love to come here on vacation and live here and work here and raise their families here and all of this.
But also one of the reasons why we have such a beautiful place is because we have great weather and a lot of sunshine, and a lot of sunshine, of course, brings dry weather and dry brush and a dry atmosphere, and creates, of course, an especially vulnerable situation, which is wildfires. And we all remember what happened last year; we had all of a sudden 2,000 wildfires all at one time and it was quite a shock to every one of us. And I think only by working together we were able to take care of this situation.
And I think that, as I said last year and I say it every time, we are very fortunate also that we have the best firefighters, we have the best-trained firefighters and the bravest and the most selfless firefighters in the world, without any doubt. And I think because of that we were able to put out those fires and to beat back every one of those fires. But it was not without great sacrifice, and without great cost; 15 firefighters and civilians lost their lives and 1,400 homes were burned down and 1.6 million acres burned.
A third straight year of drought only heightens the danger that we face this summer. We have been fortunate so far that we didnt have any major fires, but its going to come up. We need every firefighting tool on ready alert so that we can spring into action when disaster strikes.
Today Im signing an Executive Order directing CAL FIRE to immediately mobilize more personnel, more engines, more helicopters and more planes. Our engines will carry a crew of four firefighters rather than the usual three. We will not be caught off guard or understaffed or underequipped. When Mother Nature strikes, we will be ready.
But this is a team effort, of course, as you have heard, and the public needs to do its part. And this is why I declare May 3rd through May 9th as Wildfire Awareness Week so that people are aware of what they need to do. Our theme this year, as you have heard Chief Walters say, is you provide the defense and we will provide the offense.
And the best defense, of course, is prevention. Everyone is responsible for prevention because we all have something to lose if a fire breaks out and if we dont work together. So here are some of the points that I want to make:
Number one, clean the dry pine needles and leaves and branches off your rooftop.
Number two, obey our 100-foot defensible space law.
Very important. And I tell you, I thought that in our house we had done that, and then I had a fire chief come up to our house and give us advice and then they told us how to clear more brush and get rid of more trees. We did that, we cleared the area, and it was very helpful to get this extra advice. So if you have any questions, you always can ask your local fire department to give you advice on that. But its very important to have that 100-feet defensible space. And we have seen last year when we traveled around the areas where there were fires, that those homes that had this 100-foot defensible space were saved, and other homes were burned down right next to it. So pay attention to that.
We are never as strong as when we work together, this is clear, so I urge each Californian to be smart, to be vigilant, and to obey our fire laws. Rest assured that Im going to do everything that I can as governor to give our firefighters all the tools that they need in order to fight those fires. Since 2005, for example, we have replaced 87 old fire engines, some of them you see behind us and all around us here, so we are very happy to have stepped up and done some of the things that were recommended that we ought to do. I will continue to fight for my Emergency Response Initiative, of course, to give our first responders the stable funding that they deserve and that they need.
So again, I want to say thank you very much to the great firefighters and to everyone for coordinating. And also, as I have said so many times, we are very fortunate that we have really worked together well with the local firefighters, the state firefighters and, of course, the federal firefighters, so there is great communication, a great relationship there. So thank you very much again for your great effort.
And now I would like to bring out Mike Chrisman, Secretary Mike Chrisman, to say a few words about this issue. Please. (Applause)
SECRETARY CHRISMAN: Thanks, Governor. And again, thanks to all of you for joining us today for this important event. During Wildfire Awareness Week, of course, were all reminded of the responsibility that we all have to protect our homes and businesses and the beautiful natural resources and landscape in this great state. As we also know, and weve learned too hard over the last few years, somehow our fire seasons never seem to end. This is why fire prevention, as the Governor said, fire prevention education is critical, and why all of us here in California and down the state should take every precaution to protect themselves and their property.
As we continue to face these very, very difficult drought conditions and climate change impacts, precipitation levels and temperatures are likely to fluctuate and fires are more likely to start. We must, as we always say, work together to create this defensible space around some of our vulnerable homes and educate the families on how to be fire safe, because at the end of the day, of course, wildfire impacts us all and we are all in this together, all working in it together to protect the citizenry of California.
To address some of these challenges the Governor has taken, and will take action again today, to ensure that all Californians will be protected today and into the future. The Governors commitment in protecting Californias residences and natural beauties is evidenced by the actions that hes going to take here today and has taken in the past. Like all of us, he certainly recognizes the tremendous work of our brave firefighters and emergency responders, and is committed to providing them with the needed resources to meet and protect our property and our lives and open space here in California.
Now its gives me a great deal of pleasure to introduce to you a dear friend, one who works tirelessly every day to ensure Californians are protected from disasters, our acting Secretary Matt Bettenhausen. Matt? (Applause)
GOVERNOR SCHWARZENEGGER: Oh, hes shaking your hand.
SECRETARY BETTENHAUSEN: Thank you all for being here. The Governor never fails to remind us at the Cabinet meetings about what our priority in government needs to be, and it needs to be public safety. He also chides us and reminds us that we have to have a vision, and the vision needs to beBettenhausen, what are you doing?
We need to make sure that we have prevention, because prevention is, as the old adage says, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And whether it was the levees that were broken and needed immediate repairand people could debate about whether thats a federal responsibility, a state responsibility, a local responsibilitythe Governor acted. We signed the Executive Order and we went out and worked to repair it.
We live in a dangerous fire zone here in California because of all of the fuels. And so we work day in and day out, every day, to become better prepared. Well never be 100 percent safe and well never be 100 percent prepared, but we can build towards that every day.
And Im very pleasedand this is really a great personal thing for me. My father, this is his 57th year in the fire service. My brother is a firefighter, all my uncles are firefighters. Something went wrong with me, I went into the law.
But to be here with all of our partners, the Governors vision when we do prevention and preparedness and how we do our mutual aid, is we understand that we have to build our capabilities from the bottom up. All incidents are local. And this is about teamwork and partnerships in building those things up and to have the Governors leadership, since weve seen the major fires in 2007 and 2008, the lessons learned from 2003 when you were transitioning as governor with Governor Davis, this has been a huge priority. And weve made great progress with the California Emergency Management Agency, adding the new trucks that the Governor has talked about. Were going to have two more that are going to be delivered this month.
But we need to have the Emergency Response Initiative so that we can have the stable funding for our firefighters who, day in and day out, are saving lives, protecting our property and making a difference. They are the best and the bravest in the world. And we here in California have the best mutual aid system anywhere. I know this from having worked with all 50 states and six territories and looked at the system. Sheldon Gilbert, Mike Warren and a lot of our fire leaders have gone out to other states to teach them how to build a statewide mutual aid system. Its kind of hard to believe in the 21st century some states dont have it, but weve had it here in California since the 1950s.
And so that helps us support our partners at the state level, it helps us support and bring in our federal partners, helps us through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, that the Governor was able to get passed in 2005, so that we can bring resources, not only from our neighboring states without delay, but from throughout the world. So we are equipped and ready with not only the 141-plus fire equipment that we have here at CAL Emergency Management, but also six brand-new communication and coordination vehicles to make sure that we have interoperable communications that are spread throughout the state. And then with our local partners, over 1,000 fire engines on-call, ready to be deployed at a moments notice; 500 of those can be deployed within 24 hours, the next 500 within 24 to 36 hours.
So we are doing a lot to make sure, as government, that were connected together, that were partnered together. But as the Governor mentioned, it requires all of us. Its just like the flu. Everybody has to participate in this. You have to do your defensible space and you have to make sure that youre being aware of what youre doing with the fire when youre using fire and the accidents that can happen or campfires can get out of control. As the Governor is going to note in the order here today, 94 percent of the fires here in California are human caused. Some of those are accidental; unfortunately, a few are intentional. And were going to have Mother Nature hit us as well, as we did last year.
But the publics role in taking part of this entire process is to help us prevent fires and be prepared yourselves. The Governor talked about the tragic season that we had and the lives lost, the acres burned, 1.6 million acres. We can do better if everybody works together. The life you may save and the property you may save is your own. So were all in it together.
And when I speak of together, I cant have a better partner than we have in the National Guard. Their ability to mobilize, help us with logisticstheyve helped us with the flu, as has CAL FIRE, incident management teams working in our Operations Center making sure all of these things go together and work well. And for me, having the National Guardand again, the best National Guard in the nation, led by the best Adjutant General and my friend and partner, William Wade. General Wade. (Applause)
GENERAL WADE: Thank you, Secretary Bettenhausen. Im sure thats going to cost me. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. As youve heard, Im Major General Bill Wade and I am the Adjutant General of the California National Guard and Im extremely proud to command the more than 22,000 soldiers and airmen of this countrys most experienced professional and capable citizen soldiers and airmen.
Once again, the California National Guard is well prepared to respond to fires this year. Weve completed invaluable training with federal, state and local partners, and its made your California National Guard as prepared as ever to perform one of our most important missions for the state of California.
The guard also worked very diligently to acquire the newest equipment since last summers historically severe wildfire season, the first being a state-of-art modular airborne firefighting system, or whats referred to as MFS2, the most advanced military freighting system in the world. Its capable of dropping 3,400 gallons of retardant at multiple locations from an advanced C-130J aircraft, which were also blessed to have eight of.
The California National Guard also enhanced its ground firefighting capability. It recently acquired two additional advanced high mobility firefighting trucks and three water tenders, so we have six of those now in our state that we make available to our partners at CAL FIRE.
We gained great experience last summer during our interagency firefighting operations with our Emergency Management partners and we stand ready to assist if called upon again.
With that said, Id like to turn things back to my Commander In Chief, the Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Sir? (Applause)
GOVERNOR SCHWARZENEGGER: I talked earlier that Im here to sign an Executive Order and thats exactly what Im going to do now, to create some action.
GOVERNOR: If there are any questions about any of this, please feel free. Yes?
CHIEF WALTERS: Early in the budget process we were asked to identify a 10 percent cut for our budget. And wed already undergone some cuts in the years previous, and those have not come out of fire protection. Those have come out of other programs, to the point that, in order to meet our statutory responsibilities, the last thing left is fire protection.
And what that means to us is 1,100 firefighters that we would put on fire engines as a fourth firefighter, 608 permanent personnel that would come from 20 forestations and 11 conservation camps and a helitack base. Those are the types of things that were talking about. And the conservation camp in particular is of extreme consequence to us, as are the engines and the helicopter. We really cant afford to lose any of our resources.
QUESTION: A recent Field Poll came out showing a majority of Californians support legalizing and taxing marijuana use. Especially with the money problems the state is having, is it time for the state to start legalizing and taxing marijuana use?
GOVERNOR: No. I think that its not time for that, but I think its time for a debate. I think all of those ideas of creating extra revenues, Im always for an open debate on it. And I think that we ought to study very carefully what other countries are doing that have legalized marijuana and other drugs, what affect it had on those countries, and are they happy with that decision. Or, like for instance in Austria, Ive heard that they are unhappy with that and they want to roll back some of the decisions that were made in European countries. Ive had dialogue with experts over there where I was born. So I think that one ought to look at all that. And it could very well be that everyone is happy with that decision and then we can look at that. And if not, we shouldnt do it. But just because of raising revenues, we have to be very careful not to make mistakes at the same time.
QUESTION: Getting back to the original question, if public safety is, in fact, your number one priority, as youve said in the past, why are you proposing these cuts? And it seems hard to believe that the state is not going to come up with the personnel and the money needed if this is a bad fire season.
GOVERNOR: Well, you have to understand, there is only so much money available. California does not have the pleasure of printing their own money. So if we were Washington, you know, I would be printing more money, but thats not what is the case.
So therefore we have to live within a certain amount of money. So you can only raise revenues through taxes or you have to make cuts; those are the only two choices you have. And what I have said to the people, and I think the legislators actually have done a good job to find a good middle ground, to go and raise revenues by $12 billion but also to make the cuts of almost $16 billion.
QUESTION: Do you worry about the people, the Californians who live like in forestland this summer if these personnel cuts have to be made?
GOVERNOR: I think that the important thing right now for people in California, and why we staged this event, the Wildfire Awareness Week, is simply to say to the people, together we have tremendous power and we can prevent a lot of the problems. So if we know that more than 90 percent of the fires are manmade and created by people, by making mistakes, we know that we can really cut back on the amount of fires that we have. So we urge the people to go and not to start fires when theres a dry season, to have campfires and all of those kind of things. Stay away from all that, from the firecrackers and all those things that we use. Or clean up your rooftop, take the dry needles off and the leaves and branches and all of those things, and create the defensible space around your house. Those are the kind of simple things.
If youre with us, you provide the defense and we provide the offense. Thats the whole theme of these things. And we have, like I said, the best freighters, the most extraordinary, talented and tough and selfless people that go in there and they fight those fires. But the people can help a lot in this thing so we dont have that many fires.
So with that, thank you very much, all of you, for being here today. Thank you. (Applause)