Sacramento, CA – Senator Mike McGuire’s legislation with Assemblymember Bill Dodd that provides state assistance to help Lake County cover the costs incurred by three major fires was approved in its first committee today. It is estimated that $1.3 billion in damage resulted from the third worst fire in state history, the Valley Fire, and the poorest county in the state is on the hook to cover a portion of those costs – unless SB 937 is signed into law. The County’s anticipated share of the cost would be $2-$3 million.
The bill was supported with a 12-0, bipartisan vote in the Senate Committee on Governmental Organization this morning.
“The Valley Fire caused unspeakable devastation and destruction in Lake County and resulted in over a billion dollars in damage,” Senator Mike McGuire said. “Now, to make matters worse, these communities are burdened by a historic loss of property, sales, and bed taxes. Almost all of the tax base in Southern Lake County, ground zero for the Valley Fire, has been obliterated. The state needs to rally and help Lake in its greatest time of need and cover the costs to relieve the burden of Lake County communities and neighbors.”
This morning’s hearing brought to a close two days of significant meetings for Lake County’s recovery held in the State Capitol, led by Senator McGuire and Assemblymember Dodd. On Monday, Lake County public officials and staff presented several projects to the Governor’s office, the Office of Emergency Services, CalFire, the State Water Board, and the Department of Fish and Wildlife to boost support for Lake County’s short and long term recovery and rebuilding. State funding opportunities are being identified and sought for projects including development of an Anderson Springs Wastewater Treatment Plant, Socrates Mine Road evacuation route, and water quality needs for Clear Lake.
On the legislative front, Senate Bill 937, Lake County Fire Disaster Relief, adds the Lake County fires of 2015 to the list of events for which the state share of eligible cost is up to 100 percent of the non-federal financial assistance.
In 2015, over 50 percent of all wildland fire activity for CalFire was in just one county, the County of Lake. Three major fires impacted the County: The Rocky, Jerusalem and the Valley. The Rocky and Jerusalem were incredibly destructive, scorching 94,556 acres, but the Valley Fire was of historic proportion. It was the third worst wildland fire in California history.
The Valley Fire started on September 12, 2015 and didn’t stop for nearly a month after its initial spark. At its peak, 48 acres burned every minute. In the end, over 1,900 structures burned to the ground, including 1,300 homes. Nearly 20,000 residents were evacuated and ultimately 170,623 acres burned and more than $1.3 billion in damage resulted from the historic disaster. These fires were exacerbated by the worst drought in the past 500 hundred years.
Lake County Supervisor Rob Brown testified in support of the bill today, outlining the economic hit the county would take if it has to pay for a share of the disaster’s cost. “With a discretionary budget in our general fund being only $32 million, Lake County is the poorest in the State and the non-passage of SB 937 could mean the potential elimination of 11 of the 39 deputy sheriff positions that we already struggle to get by with. It could mean the elimination of 14 of our 29 Deputy Probation Officers or the elimination of our parks maintenance program and the aquatic weed abatement program on Clear Lake. It could mean the elimination of road maintenance programs within the fire area,” Supervisor Brown said.
SB 937 was heard and unanimously approved today in the Senate’s Committee on Governmental Organization. Testifying on behalf of the bill, alongside Senator McGuire were Lake County Sheriff Brian Martin and South Lake County Fire Protection District Board Chair Jim Comisky.
Sheriff Martin recounted to the Senate Committee the first moments he became aware of the strength and destruction of the Valley Fire. “As Senator McGuire and I were briefed by other first responders, we could hear the roar of the fire. It sounded like a combination of a jet engine and a freight train coming through town. The damage it left behind was worse than both of those two machines could have done. We listened as propane tanks exploded all around us. We were in a battle zone and the Valley Fire was destroying our community,” Sheriff Martin said.
SB 937 will now head to the Senate Appropriations Committee for approval.