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Bondholders Fear California Blackout Threats, Wildfires

Cal Fire plans to burn 15,000 acres – that’s about 18 years worth of forest burns

Now that the annual rainy season is underway, the firefight in California’s forests is gearing up. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection plans to burn 15,000 acres this season — that’s about 18 years worth of forest burns.

To prepare for a large-scale fire in the state, private forest owners and lenders are doing the same thing. They’re looking for ways to generate cash to pay for firefighting efforts.

“Any amount of money that goes toward firefighting or forest health activity would save people’s homes,” said Spencer Getzmann, a mortgage lender with Fiserv bank in Fort Worth, Texas.

Burned-for-the-money situation

Because this season will be so intense, Getzmann said lenders are worried about potential property damage as well as a potential federal government shutdown.

“It’s kind of a burn-it-down situation where all the country’s dollars are going toward a single issue. We’re concerned,” he said.

Banks are also mindful of stockbrokers, who traditionally make their money when homes in burned-down areas are resold.

Fred Rogers Foundation

California’s chief development officer for the California State Parks Foundation, Audrey Foss, said Cal Parks and the California Foundation for the Preservation of Our Forests are working to keep people out of the most vulnerable areas.

“As a homeowner, you should be avoiding the singed, singed areas. The home you thought was intact is, in fact, completely singed,” Foss said.

What makes it dangerous to set up pop-up campfires in burned-down areas? San Diego City Fire Battalion Chief Bob Ayres said the vegetation used for campfires is more flammable this year, not just because of the drought, but also because of recent heavy rains. The Temecula Creek Fire burned 800 acres in San Diego County in June 2018, and the Fallbrook Canyon Fire burned 2,000 acres in December 2017.

Last year, the Klamath National Forest settled $41 million to help cover the cost of firefighting efforts. This year, the San Diego County and Murrieta County fire departments have established a mutual aid agreement that will enable them to quickly respond to hot spots. This arrangement means that wildland firefighters from throughout the county will join the Murrieta and San Diego County crews on the ground.

State policy makers will also be coming together in Sacramento to develop a protocol for the burning of donated public lands, public lands is allowed to burn if permits are obtained, but private homes and property can’t.

“Any firefighter with any type of badge should be against leaving public forestlands unattended with a tent, a backpack, and no water,” said Duncan Page, California Forestry Association vice president of policy, safety, and fire services.

With no firelogs, there is no fuel for wildfires and it can be challenging to fight a fire without them. One expert said this year’s firefighting efforts will be dictated by water supply.

“The challenge is that while large fires are predicted to continue, we’re no longer an arid place like we used to be. A large proportion of the state is now quite a bit wetter, even moreso in some regions of Southern California. New rainfall has certainly helped that,” said Mike Vartorella, principal scientist for the Southwestern region for AIR Worldwide.

The Dry California Drought

According to AIR Worldwide, since 1989, dry conditions have consistently plagued California. Based on weather conditions, the 2017 El Niño event was as likely to boost precipitation levels as a drought event. But neither event happened.

“The last El Niño event was, ironically, a drought event. We had the oddest of an event — all wet in southern California and drier than usual in the northern parts of the state,” Vartorella said.

Other experts have put it a little more bluntly. A biologist who does fire forecasting told the Los Angeles Times that “California hasn’t had significant vegetation growth since before the drought started in 2007.”

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