Associated Press
SACRAMENTO (AP) — California has completed 34 of the forest thinning projects it rushed to finish in the past year as a way to buffer 200 communities at high risk from wildfires, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday.
His office said two of the projects helped protect Santa Barbara residents during a fire before Thanksgiving.
His administration expedited 35 projects in the wake of catastrophic wildfires that devastated communities in recent years, including one that nearly leveled the Northern California town of Paradise.
The final project is expected to be finished this spring.
Newsom was expected to discuss the projects and other wildfire-related issues, including his concerns over the future of the state’s largest electric utility, during a public interview Wednesday hosted by the nonprofit Public Policy Institute of California.
Last week, the governor urged a federal judge to reject Pacific Gas & Electric’s blueprint for getting out of bankruptcy after it was found liable for several deadly wildfires, and he renewed his threat to try to turn the utility into a government-run operation.
The forest projects thin or clear brush and trees along wide paths so wildfires slow down and can be contained. Workers also removed hazardous dead trees and created more roadways that can help with evacuations during wildfires.
Critics say the projects won’t slow wind-driven infernos like ones that devastated communities in recent years. They also caution that to remain effective, even against slow-moving blazes, the fire breaks must be maintained indefinitely by weeding out more flammable brush and grass that would naturally grow where trees are removed.
Newsom sped the projects covering 90,000 acres by suspending some requirements and regulations,
The Democratic governor has faced repeated criticism from President Donald Trump for not doing enough to manage California forests.
Newsom said the projects show the state is “acting quickly – with emergency pace – to protect communities most at risk.”