California is hiring 858 new seasonal firefighters and six new Conservation Corp teams to backfill the loss of dozens of inmate fire crews which were placed on lockdown due to the rapid spread of COVID-19 in state prisons, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced at a press conference on Thursday.
Newsom shared that news on the same day California announced 149 new deaths due to the coronavirus, the most in a single day.
Standing in front of one of California’s new Firehawk helicopters at CalFire’s McClellan Air Tanker Reload Base north of Sacramento, Newsom said the state is ready for the dangerous peak fire season despite the challenges of climate change, the state’s budget shortfall, coronavirus and an uptick in fires so far this year.
Newsom said fire crews have already recorded 4,112 fires from January through July 4, compared with 2,580 fires on average during that period in past years.
“We believe, despite the increase in fires, that the team here is up to the task,” Newsom said.
The news about adding more seasonal firefighters comes as 98 of the state’s 192 inmate fire crews have been shut down due to the aggressive spread of COVID-19 through California’s prison system. Inmate crews help create fire breaks at fires large and small across the state.
Despite facing a $54 billion budget shortfall this spring, Newsom said California has continued to invest in firefighting personnel and equipment. He cited $85.6 million included in this year’s budget for an additional 172 permanent, year-round firefighting staff. The governor also pointed to $285 million the state will spend on 12 Black-Hawk-model helicopters, which he said will be able to fight fires at night unlike older models.
Also on Thursday, Newsom’s Emergency Services Director Mark Ghilarducci said evacuations could look very different this year due to the coronavirus, which continues to spread across the state.
“We may be putting you into hotels to keep people separate so they’re not congregating,” Ghilarducci said.
When that’s not an option, he said more traditional evacuation centers may have temperature checks, mandatory mask wearing, physical distancing, individual meals and enhanced nursing staff.
CalFire Chief Thom Porter encouraged the public to wear a mask whenever they interact with firefighters to keep everyone safe, noting that firefighting “is a partnership with the community.”
Newsom also provided California’s latest COVID-19 numbers. Those include:
- 7,031 new cases over the past day
- A seven-day average of 8,043 new cases
- A positivity rate of 7.3 percent for both the last seven-day and 14-day periods, up 2.2 percent from two weeks ago
- A single-day record of 149 deaths due to COVID-19 over the past day. The previous high was 115 on April 22, according to state records.
- An average of 73 lives lost per day over the past seven days
- A 0.4% increase over the past day in hospitalizations
- A 0.1% decrease in ICU cases over the past day
The governor warned the disease is not going away, adding the numbers show how “deadly and devastating this disease continues to be.”
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