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Funds OKd for Forest Fire Fight

The governor frees up $13 million for more crews and equipment for areas hit by insects and drought.

June 21, 2003|Hugo Martin | Times Staff Writer

Hoping to prevent a catastrophic wildfire, Gov. Gray Davis signed an executive order Friday that released $13 million in state funds for additional firefighting crews and equipment to monitor Southern California forests devastated by drought and infestation.

Davis said the money, set aside for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention, will better prepare firefighters to battle a blaze among the dead and dying trees.

State and county fire officials fear the trees would make ample fuel for a wildfire and have been lobbying state and federal officials for money to remove them and prepare evacuation plans for the thousands of residents in Lake Arrowhead, Big Bear and other wooded mountain communities.

"With this money, we can get ahead of the problem instead of chasing it," Davis said during a news conference in Riverside.

A bark beetle infestation has killed thousands of trees and has spread throughout more than 550,000 acres in Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties. It appears to be spilling into the Angeles National Forest in neighboring Los Angeles County.

"This is an enormous environmental and public safety problem," said Ray Snodgrass, deputy director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention.

The money released Friday will pay to staff additional firefighters and deploy more fire engines in the forest areas of Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Los Angeles, Ventura and Orange counties.

The money will also be used to assign prison inmates to fire crews throughout the region.

In addition, firefighting helicopters and airplanes will be deployed to the forest areas to battle any fire outbreak.

Last month, Davis toured the San Bernardino County forests by helicopter to see firsthand the patches of dead and dying trees throughout the region.

On Friday, he said the aerial toured showed him "row after row of dead trees and they are just waiting to go up in flames at the slightest provocation."

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