Biden announces $37M in fire mitigation funding for Sonoma County

By Grace Carroll, SoCoNews, July 1, 2021

fire in sonoma county

ACT FAST — Joe Biden announced on Wednesday that Sonoma County would be the recipient of a $37 million grant to support the county’s fire mitigation efforts as another fire season looms. (Photo SoCoNews archive)

Citing “orange skies” of previous fire seasons, White House pledges to “act and act fast”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has awarded $37 million in immediate funding to Sonoma County’s wildfire mitigation efforts. President Joe Biden announced the funding during a Wednesday meeting with governors from states across the western U.S., as severe drought and unprecedented heat waves have left the entire region bracing for disaster.

Matthew Brown, communications specialist for Sonoma County, said the county was “ecstatic” upon learning that their grant application had been approved during today’s meeting. Referring to Sonoma County by name, Biden cited the region’s devastating history of wildfires as the primary impetus for awarding the funding.

“This is huge. Not just because of the money, but the president and governor as well are calling out that this is the place where we are the proof of concept for the future of wildfire resilience,” Fourth District Supervisor James Gore said. “This is not just because we were hit hard. This is because of how we’ve mobilized.”

Gore cited the county’s vegetation management, forecasting, evacuation and bilingual programs as major strides in fire mitigation.

“Our hard work in trying to lead the state in the implementation of innovative wildfire risk reduction strategies is paying off,” Lynda Hopkins, supervisor for Sonoma County’s Fifth District, wrote in a statement on Facebook.

Between dwindling mountain snowpack and serious drought conditions, Northern California’s fire season is already raging, as Siskiyou County’s Lava Fire burned through 13,300 acres in the last week.

“We can’t cut corners when it comes to managing our wildfires or supporting our firefighters. Right now we have to act and act fast,″ Biden said during the meeting, according to the Associated Press. He also spoke of the apocalyptic “orange skies” that resulted from California’s last fire season, the most devastating on record.

The grant was announced in conjunction with increased federal support for wildfire mitigation programs all throughout the American west. Some of the proposals discussed include permanently raising firefighters’ wages to $15 per hour, improving firefighting equipment and investing in early detection technologies.

However, according to the New York Times, an anonymous White House aide told reporters on Tuesday that many of the proposals aired during the governors’ meeting were unlikely to provide tangible assistance quickly enough for this year’s early and aggressive fire season.

Sonoma County will receive more immediate assistance, as the county was one of the first in the nation to apply for funding through the Biden administration’s new Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program. Overall, 30 applications were filed across the state of California, with requests totaling more than $200 million in BRIC funding.

As chair of the Resilient Counties Advisory Board, Gore gave congressional testimony urging FEMA to direct more resources to preventative disaster efforts, which eventually led to the creation of the BRIC program.

“At this point, we want to pre-defeat fires. We don’t want to keep responding to them,” Gore said.

The $37 million will go primarily to supporting the county’s ongoing mitigation efforts, such as thinning canopies, trimming undergrowth, reducing fuel availability in high-fuel areas and helping private landowners make their property more resilient to wildfires, according to Brown.

“We will put this money to good use,” he said. “We have these programs in place now, this will just help us do more of it, and do it faster. It’s even more urgent this year.”

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