SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Devastating wildfires have struck throughout California this summer, destroying homes, reducing forests to smoldering rubble, killing helpless wildlife, and also burning a huge hole in the state’s budget.


The fire alarm has clearly sounded, yet California is not listening. The only solution the state has provided thus far is to throw more money into suppression resources, while the reality is that preventing a catastrophic wildfire begins with pre-emptive measures like reducing the amount of dried brush, dead trees and other woody debris from California’s unmanaged forests.


A group of north state congressman, state legislators representing rural areas of California, local civic leaders and hundreds of community members from throughout are expected for an unprecedented summit to focus attention of the critical problem California’s rural communities face because of the wildfire threat.


The summit, presented by the Rural Legislative Caucus, begins at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 13, at the State Capitol (Room 4203).


During the summit, families impacted by the wildfires, local leaders and others will give their views on ways to prevent future catastrophic wildfires and urge lawmakers and other state and federal leaders to act swiftly.


“Most Californians only see wildfires on television,” said Trinity County Supervisor Roger Jaegel, a retired Forest Service employee and a community volunteer. “We see them in our neighborhoods, in nearby forests and in our daily lives. We live in fear that the next fire will destroy our homes, businesses and communities. We will be asking for real leadership that takes real action to prevent the next fire.”


“For too many years, our local communities have not received the support they need to protect themselves from fire,” said State Senator Sam Aanestad of Grass Valley, one of the organizers of the event. “The time for action is now and the steps must come immediately to begin truly protecting our communities, forests and watersheds. While fighting fires is desperately needed, it is only one side of the equation. We must take action to prevent catastrophic wildfires.”


In early July, Senator Aanestad called on the California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection to take immediate and emergency action in response to numerous wildfires that have charred thousands of acres of land in his Northern California District.


“More resources to fight wildfires are not the solution to our wildfire problem in California,” Sen. Aanestad testified. “We could park a fire truck in every back yard in the state and the result would still be the same: larger fires and more devastation to our endangered species and salmon streams. The only way to prevent catastrophic wildfires is to remove the sources of fuel that are currently feeding these fires.”


The bill for fighting these fires stands at more than $1 billion, and is still growing. The rash of wildfires has caused the Forest Service to raid accounts used for everything from reforestation to fish and wildlife, to creating trails and campgrounds.


Heading into August, about 1.1 million acres had burned in California already this year. The previous record was 900,000 acres, set last year when fires in Southern California raged into the fall.


In July, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger asked the Legislature for an additional $70 million for fire suppression resources and not one penny for creating preventative measures.


“We must take definitive action now to remove dead and dying trees and other fuels that will eventually burn in our forests,” said Kathy Fornacari, a Junction City resident and community volunteer who has been evacuated four times this year from her home because of fire. “If something isn’t done these devastating wildfires will only continue.”

*Rural Legislative Caucus