The smoke and fire across Northern California is an unwelcome reminder for thousands in Sonoma and Napa counties -- both still rebuilding from years of fire going back to 2017.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla visited Santa Rosa to ask community leaders about what they need to avoid another destructive wildfire. He took notes as one civic official after another explained the hardships and challenges they continue to face because of wildfires.
“We literally vacillate from fire to flood to pandemic in the course of one year, so we are essentially always in either disaster response or recovery mode,” said Lynda Hopkins, president of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors.
Padilla was also there to listen to fire managers and tribal leaders.
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“We need more funding for prevention, for hazardous fuels reduction, for staffing,” said Reno Franklin, Kashia Pomo Tribe Chair Emeritus.
And winegrowers discussed concerns about the toll the fires take and possible solutions.
“We experienced about 40%, about $300 million of worth of financial impact due to crop loss in Sonoma County last year,” said Kruse.
The senator says it’s obvious climate change is changing the rules and risk, and we need solutions fast.
“We’re experiencing sustained droughts,” said Padilla. “We’re experiencing hotter and hotter summers, and we’re seeing record wildfires every year. Climate change has arrived, and that adds to the urgency in which we need to act.”
When he returns to Washington, D.C., Padilla says he’ll push for emergency funding and plans to support a $7 billion hurricane and fire indemnity program.
He also said he will reach out to the state insurance commissioner to make sure companies are more responsive to the needs of Californians who have lost homes in fires.
“When it takes years and years, that is way too long for local governments to receive funding or be reimbursed or for a homeowner to wait for the funding they deserve through their insurance companies,” said Padilla.
Congressman Mike Thompson, also at the roundtable, said there is another issue -- finding insurance at a reasonable price in wildfire-threatened communities, even when they have done all they can to cut their risk.
“I’ve got a number of constituents who have invested a lot of money into resiliency, and they have seen no help from their insurance companies,” he said.
Earlier this month Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. It provides nearly $700 million to help clear forests of vegetation and make wildfires less severe and less destructive and almost a half-billion dollars to restore burned forests and infrastructure damaged by fires.
Local leaders are urging Padilla and Thompson to do their best to make sure cities, fire agencies and homeowners get the help they need in a timely manner to avoid more severe wildfires and recover when they are impacted by fire.