California · Wildfires

Amid Dixie Fire, Calif. legislators fume as hearings on wildfire operations pushed off

As California runs headlong into another wildfire season, it appears the best – or rather only – way to get a good look at current wildfire operations is right up against a raging fire.

That’s the takeaway from Asm. Vince Fong (R–Bakersfield), the vice chair of California’s State Assembly Budget Committee.

Lawmakers were set to get their first examination of the state’s current wildfire mitigation efforts on Wednesday via a budget subcommittee hearing.

On Monday, without warning, the meeting was postponed indefinitely.

Fong trained his ire over the cancellation at Gov. Gavin Newsom and his administration. He blamed them for a lack of action and urgency in updating the Legislature, arguing that they were dodging their responsibility to submit to oversight.

“Why would the Newsom Administration or the Governor himself not want to participate in an open and public discussion on the current status of wildfire prevention operations? Especially at a time when Californians across the state are being impacted by the destruction and effects of catastrophic wildfires,” Fong said in a statement.

“The public demands answers to countless questions.”

Christian Griffith, the committee’s chief consultant, told Capitol Public Radio that Cal Fire officials were indisposed due to their current work fighting fires.

“These efforts are a priority,” Griffith told Capitol Public Radio’s Scott Rodd. “Our tough questions will have to wait.”

Funding for the state’s wildfire prevention efforts remains in flux as legislative leaders seek to nail down priorities, ostensibly to be determined via hearings like Wednesday’s.

Newsom’s handling of wildfire mitigation has become a top issue during the recall following a report that his administration drastically overstated its impact in cutting down wildfire hazards.

The report found Newsom and his administration exaggerated the acreage cleared by workers to the tune of 690 percent.

A hearing before legislators inevitably would touch on uncomfortable lines of questioning focused on the Newsom administration’s claims of wildfire prevention work compared to real-world deliverables.

Currently, the Dixie Fire – officially the state’s largest wildfire in history – has raged for 34 days, consuming 604,511 acres across four counties in northern California.

Alex Tavlian is the Executive Editor of The San Joaquin Valley Sun and Executive Director of Valley Future Foundation. You can reach Alex at alex.tavlian@sjvsun.com.