By Lemor Abrams

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — California may be in the thick of winter, but state fire crews are on the front lines of a new battle.

Fire officials met at the state Capitol Tuesday, planning for another destructive year and to prevent one like 2017.

From Napa to Ventura County, 2017 may have been a record year for destructive fires in the state. Flames torched about 1.3 million acres, about six times the average.

But California fire chiefs say they could have saved more lives and terrain, had they deployed crews before the fires even started.

That wasn’t an option.

“We’re operating under a 50-year-old system. Things have changed in the last 50 years, and before we depended on mutual aid to get us mutual aid in first 12 to 24 hours. Now we need them in first minutes to hours,” said Contra Costa Fire Protection District Chief Jeff Carman, also representing the Metro Fire Chiefs.

Case in point, the Thomas Fire in Southern California. It’s the largest in state history, raging in the atypical month of December.

At one point, according to Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen, burning 15 miles in three hours.

“But resources is really where we’re capped,” he said.

“Fire season is 12 months a year. It used to be fire season would run anywhere from April to October,” said state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, chief of the state’s emergency management committee.

While she acknowledges the new fire-reality, she says time is money.

Local fire chiefs are requesting $100 million to fix the antiquated response system, allowing dispatchers to “pre-deploy” resources in high risk, red flag conditions.

“If we pre-position resources and be more proactive, we can save a lot of property damage and lives,” said Fire Chiefs Association President Mark Hartwig.

He’s hoping saving lives, takes away the burn out of the bottom line.


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