Fire Officials: Hobby Drones Hamper Firefighting In California

Jul 14, 2015
Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio

Federal and state fire officials are urging drone hobbyists to keep their unmanned aerial vehicles out of the sky during firefighting operations. Ed Joyce reports from Sacramento.

Hobby drones caused the suspension of aerial operations recently as crews were fighting wildfires in three national forests in California. Shawna Legarza is the Fire and Aviation Director for the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Southwest Region.

Cal Fire Air Tankers Cleared To Fly After Yosemite Crash

Oct 10, 2014 / CAL FIRE PIO Kevin Berlant /

Cal Fire's fleet of 22 firefighting air tankers are back in service. The planes were on a safety stand down after a tanker crash this week in Yosemite National Park. Ed Joyce reports from Sacramento.

The Tuesday crash killed pilot Geoffrey Hunt as he was about to drop retardant on the Dog Rock Fire near Yosemite's west entrance.

The safety stand-down was intended to give officials time to inspect the remaining aircraft and allow other pilots time to recover.

Cal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott:

Cal Fire

An air tanker that was battling a wildfire burning near the Arch Rock entrance to Yosemite National Park crashed on Tuesday afternoon. 

Emergency crews reached the wreckage in steep and rugged terrain in the evening and found the solo pilot dead. The name of the pilot is being withheld pending notification of family.

The Grumman S2T was based out of the Hollister Air Attack base. It was operated by Cal Fire and was assisting federal crews in fighting the 130 acre Dog Rock Fire. 

Don L. Weaver / Valley Public Radio

UPDATE: 9/18/2014 - 9 A.M.

Cal Fire officials say the Courtney Fire is 90 percent contained.

UPDATE: 9/18/2014- 7:30 A.M. 

Containment of the Courtney Fire has now risen to 80 percent. As of Wednesday evening, all evacuations have been lifted.

UPDATE: 9/17/2014 - 6 P.M.

Cal Fire reports the Courtney Fire is now 70 percent contained. As of Wednesday evening all evacuations have been lifted. 

Madera County Sheriff Dept Facebook

Firefighters are battling a wildfire in Mariposa County on Highway 49 today. The Bridge Fire began on Friday afternoon near the William Sell Bridge between Oakhurst and Mariposa and has burned around 100 acres. Mandatory evacuations are in place for residents in the Ponderosa Basin area near the east fork of the Chowchilla River. A number of structures are threatened by the fire. Highway 49 is closed between Worman Road and Chowchilla Mountain Road.

More Than 25 Percent Of California's Firefighting Budget Already Up In Smoke

Aug 2, 2014
Capital Public Radio

Less than a month into the new fiscal year, California has already used up more than a quarter of the money set aside in the state budget for fighting wildfires.

CalFire has spent $47 million since July 1st, out of 209 million for the fiscal year that ends next June.

But H.D. Palmer with the governor’s Department of Finance says if the money runs out, the state will just turn to its budget reserve.

Brown Proposing Additional $66 Million to Help Fight Wildfires

May 20, 2014
Sierra National Forest

California’s firefighting agency, Cal Fire, has already responded to about 1,500 fires this year. That’s nearly twice what would be normal. As Katie Orr reports from Sacramento, Governor Jerry Brown wants Cal Fire to have more money to fight the extended wildfire season.

Under Brown’s May budget revision, Cal Fire would receive an additional $66 million. Cal Fire’s Daniel Berlant says the money would allow the department to retain the seasonal firefighters it’s hired, including 300 last month. 

Brown's Revised Budget Would Help State During Drought, Cal Fire

May 13, 2014
Katie Orr / Capital Public Radio

Governor Jerry Brown’s revised budget proposal contains more money to address complications from the drought in California. As Amy Quinton reports from Sacramento, he wants more money to go to firefighting, food assistance, and wildlife preservation. 

Governor Brown wants to give an additional $142 million to help the state through the drought. The drought has already caused an early fire season. Under the new spending plan, the Division of Forestry and Fire Protection would get $67 million more to suppress wildfires. 

CAL FIRE Fears Fire Season Could Be Worst Ever

May 6, 2014 / CAL FIRE PIO Kevin Berlant /

CAL FIRE says it fears this year's fire season could be the worst on record.  Bob Moffitt reports on the state's preparations.

In Southern California, fire season never really ended.  In Northern California, CAL FIRE started hiring firefighters four months ahead of schedule.

Secretary of Natural Resources John Laird says the state is in the middle of the driest three years on record.

Katie Orr / Capital Public Radio

For the second year in a row, California is charging rural homeowners a special fee for fire protection. The bills are coming a bit later than planned, but they are on their way. As Katie Orr reports from Sacramento, the fee's critics are as angry as ever and still hope to overturn it.

California is sending out about 800,000 bills beginning this month. The annual $150 charge is assessed to property owners with homes on land the state is responsible for protecting.

Katie Orr / Capital Public Radio

Reducing overcrowding at California prisons is not easy. Generally, inmates must either be released or given more space, which is expensive. But there is a third option. Inmates can be sent to fire camps.  That's a cornerstone of Governor Jerry Brown's plan to reduce prison overcrowding in response to a federal court order.  State Government Reporter Katie Orr takes a closer look at what these camps entail.  

Cal Fire

The state of California is putting a temporary halt to sending out new bills to some rural homeowners in the enforcement of a controversial fire prevention fee.

The delay comes as CAL Fire is sorting through a backlog of thousands of appeals from mostly foothill and mountain residents. The state was planning to send out another round of bills in April.

Some 87,000 residents have already appealed the fee. It's unclear when the state will clear the backlog in appeals and send out new bills. 

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

California Governor Jerry Brown is calling news that the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection hid funds in a nonprofit account for several years a "boring story."

As Amy Quinton reports from Sacramento, Republicans are criticizing what they call Brown’s casual dismissal of the news.

The discovery of  $3.5 million of unreported money at CAL FIRE didn’t get much of a response from the Democratic governor.

Anti-Tax Group Sues Over Fire Prevention Fee

Oct 4, 2012
Ben Adler / Capitol Public Radio

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association has filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of California property owners who are charged a fire prevention fee.

The suit by the anti-tax group claims the fee is really a tax requiring a two-thirds vote in the legislature. It seeks to overturn the fee, which costs property owners $150 for every habitable structure on their property.

The suit was filed against the California Department of Forestry and the Board of Equalization. But Association President Jon Coupal places the blame on the legislature.

Cal Fire: Wildfire Danger Still High

Oct 4, 2012
Sierra National Forest

The hot weather is expected to end throughout most of California on Thursday, with cooler temperatures in the forecast. But with no significant rainfall in sight, state officials warn of continued fire danger.

So far this year, Cal Fire crews have responded to more than 5,300 wildfires. That’s nearly 20% more than average. And state officials say the threat of new fires isn’t over.

“Even though the calendar says ‘October’ fire danger level is high. We want people to be prepared.”

Dry Lightning Sparks Increased Fire Danger

Sep 6, 2012

The weather forecast for Northern and Central California over the next few days has state fire fighters on high alert.   CalFIRE’s Daniel Berlant says thunderstorms and strong winds could lead to dry lightning.   "When we get lightning-sparked fires, there can be dozens – even sometimes hundreds – of fires spread out through a large area.  That always is a challenge for us, because that means additional resources are needed.”    So CalFIRE is placing more fire fighters on duty and staffing its reserve engines in preparation for the increased fire danger.

Cal Fire Burning Through Its Budget

Aug 20, 2012
Sierra National Forest

Fire season in California is about half over, but the state has already spent more than two-thirds of its $93 million firefighting budget.

H.D. Palmer is with the California Department of Finance. He says the state is prepared to pay, whatever the cost.

“If we do spend more for fire suppression than is in the budget, that doesn’t mean that the tankers don’t fly, that doesn’t mean the hand crews aren’t out there, that doesn’t mean the trucks don’t show up, we will have emergency appropriation authority to do that.”