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Orange County Fire Chief on Southern California's Year-Round Fire Season

California has suffered at least 700 wildfires since the beginning of 2016, and that number is only expected to rise this summer. Orange County Fire Chief Jeff Bowman explains what California must do to combat unprecedented risks.
June 23, 2016, 10am PDT | rzelen | @rzelen
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California’s fire season is now year round, due to historic drought conditions and a century of fire suppression that has left much of the state a tinderbox. In the Planning Report, Orange County Fire Chief Jeff Bowman talks about his concerns for this upcoming fire season. Bowman, fire chief of San Diego prior to his Orange County leadership, has been an important voice in aligning local and state resources for fighting fires. 

With fires already erupting in Santa Barbara and Los Angeles County, Bowman explains how California's landscape became so vulnerable to catastrophic fires. He explains, "The bottom line is that extended periods of heat—plus California’s infamous wind conditions—equate the millions of dead trees [killed by drought] to standing matches waiting for an ignition source. We were supposed to have a decent El Niño this year, and unfortunately in Southern California that didn’t happen. So here we are, in year five of the drought."

Bowman charts some solutions for creating a united California front, such as implementing the recommendations of a Blue Ribbon Fire Commission he previously served on. Commenting on the necessary political conditions for people to act prospectively, Bowman is less optimistic about change:

"Unfortunately, humans have fairly short memories for these disasters. I was the chief in the City of San Diego in 2003 when the Cedar Fire blew threw that county. It was largest wildfire in California history. They had been told in advance of that fire that the potential was there, and ignored the warnings. After the fire blew through, there was a lot of talk about revisiting the problem. Six months after the fires came through, the only ones who wanted it as a priority were those who lost property, homes, or lives. One would think that, when you’ve suffered the largest wildfire in California history, that the focus would be on what we can do to change preparedness for that."

Read more from The Planning Report’s interview with Orange County Fire Chief Jeff Bowman.

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Published on Wednesday, June 22, 2016 in The Planning Report
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