Schwarzenegger urges new fees to boost firefighting
California firefighters need more equipment and staff to handle wildfires that are increasingly a year-round problem, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Friday.
He visited the scene of the 3,100-acre Summit fire in the Santa Cruz Mountains of Northern California, where about 1,100 firefighters are working to contain the blaze. He praised them as "the best-trained, the most courageous, the most well-equipped and most selfless firefighters in the world," but said the state needs to be better prepared for such emergencies.
Schwarzenegger is pushing for an increase in homeowners' insurance fees he said would raise $100 million for fire protection.
"I think we need those extra engines. We need more manpower. We need more aircraft. We need to update our aircraft that are outdated," he said. "So there's a lot of work that needs to be done, but we are continuing to increase all those things, so our firefighters are very well protected and that we are protected."
The fast-burning Summit fire grew to 3,100 acres Friday, leaving 12 burned structures in its wake and prompting rescues and evacuations in two counties, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. But firefighters were being helped by calmer conditions -- 30-mph winds that had fanned the blaze faded away.
Still, the fire was only 20 percent contained Friday afternoon, the agency reported. It has threatened about 500 homes and 20 businesses, said Chris Morgan of the forestry and fire protection department, and more than 1,700 people have been evacuated.
Five planes and 10 helicopters have been used to drop water on the fire since it began early Thursday, including a "supertanker" -- a jumbo jet modified to battle fires from the air. The fire's cause is still under investigation.
Schwarzenegger said the state is grappling with fires that no longer seem limited to the typical spring period.
"Now we have seen fires all year round," he said.