Thomas Fire Legislative Update
It's hard to believe it has been almost six months since the Thomas Fire disrupted our community, yet the devastation the largest wildfire in California history caused is still very vivid to us all. Indeed, last year was the most destructive wildfire season in California history.
Unfortunately, 2017 was not an abnormality. Most of California's largest wildfires have occurred within the past 30 years. Our changing climate and drought conditions have left our state susceptible to devastating and prolonged fire seasons.
Californians understandably want to know what is being done to reduce our wildfire risk, better prepare our communities for these disasters, and protect residents when the next disaster strikes. As a long-time local resident who witnessed the devastation firsthand, I share your concerns.
As Chair of the Joint Legislative Committee on Emergency Management, I've convened several hearings on our state's response to the growing wildfire risk. We examined California's emergency alert systems, first responder communications, wildfire risk, and homeowners' insurance in the wake of our changing climate. As we continue to assess the impacts of the 2017 wildfires, we continue to explore and pursue policy solutions.
With the results of these hearings and inquiries, I have identified several areas that we need to reform and authored legislation to reduce California's wildfire risk by improving our forest management practices. Changing climate patterns have made our state more vulnerable to wildfire, with massive tree die-offs due to years of drought and widespread insect infestation. These dead trees serve as fuel for wildfires, helping to spread fires fast and wide. My SB 1260 allows for more frequent controlled burns, which help reduce our wildfire risk. The bill also sets air quality standards for controlled burns and allows the state's fire agency to provide input during the planning of new home construction in fire hazard areas.
In addition, counties must be able to quickly inform residents of impending fire risks and evacuation notices. When the Thomas Fire broke out, fewer than 30 percent of residents had signed up to receive county-generated cell phone and email alerts. My SB 821 will allow counties to automatically enroll residents in their emergency notification systems. Those who do not want to be enrolled will still have the option to opt out.
I also authored legislation in response to the devastating January mudslide which killed at least 21 people and destroyed over 100 homes in Montecito. SB 917 will ensure that fire insurance policies cover losses resulting from fire-induced mudslides. The bill is designed to help current Montecito homeowners and other Californians facing similar situations by ensuring that their fire insurance will cover the debris flow and its damage following the horrific floods this year.
The Thomas fire hit our community hard. Half a year later, many of us are still struggling to recover and rebuild. In the State Capitol, we are working to apply the lessons learned to state policy so we can better prepare and protect our communities going forward in the wake of our changing climate.
I will keep you updated as this legislation makes its way through the legislative process this summer.
As always, I hope you'll stay in touch. You can email me, follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson
State Senator, 19th Senate District