State leaders made it clear Thursday that California is now in peak fire season in the midst of a pandemic.
Governor Gavin Newsom and the head of Cal Fire held a joint news conference to talk about what has already been a fierce season made all the more difficult as the coronavirus takes its toll on much needed resources.
The Crews Fire is the latest wildfire ravaging California, having burnt at least 5,400 acres. The flames are 80% contained and Newsom said more help is on the way.
There have been 628 wildfires in the state just last week, Newsom said. But Cal Fire has kept the fires, at an average, under seven acres.
The governor and the Cal Fire chief stood in front of a new Blackhawk helicopter, one of a dozen the state plans to buy. Newsom acknowledged it’s all needed as the pandemic has reduced the number of ground crews, including inmate crews.
“As a consequence, I also want to announce today that we are directing Cal Fire to move forward with temporary cohort support,” he said. “An additional 858 seasonal firefighters through at least October.”
Cal Fire Chief Tom Porter said while crews deal with COVID-19 safety equipment and protocols, he made a plea to the public: wear a mask.
“Your mask is what’s going to keep you safe from infections going into your community,” Porter said. “As well as keep our firefighters and first responders safe.”
Newsom and Porter also said crucial assisting agencies such as the Red Cross have also lost volunteers to coronavirus concerns. South Bay Red Cross Spokeswoman Cynthia Shaw echoed that need.
“We are looking for community members to step forward and get trained to be shelter volunteers to help respond if there’s an earthquake or wildfire in our community,” she said.
One positive development is that the firefighters and resources at the Crews Fire will be available soon. They expect it to be fully contained by next Thursday.