CalFire highlights new high-tech tools, warns of hot July 4 weekend

Heading into a hot holiday weekend, state fire officials are worried about abundant dry brush that has exploded across the state after months of historic winter storms earlier this year and how it may affect this year's fire season.

Gov. Gavin Newsom and state fire officials held a press conference in Grass Valley Thursday to outline the state's work to prepare.

"The sources of fuel for wildfires are becoming more susceptible to burning," said CalFire Director and Fire Chief Joe Tyler, with regard to the excessive brush that has grown since this year.

CalFire is fully staffed going into the weekend with engines, bulldozers, aircraft and hand crews, according to Tyler.

He also said that mutual aid agencies are at the ready, including tribal law enforcement and partners across the state.

New this year, Tyler said CalFire is staging at least two Sikorsky S-70i FIREHAWK helicopters in across the state. The FIREHAWKs can fly during night missions and quickly refill their water tanks while hovering.

"You look at the tools and the technology behind me and 10 years ago none of them existed," Gov. Newsom said referring to the FIREHAWKs and other aircraft on display at Grass Valley Interagency Air Attack Base.

Newsom said California will eventually grow its FIREHAWK fleet to 12 to 16 helicopters in the future. 

"We're mindful that we need to do things differently" in the age of climate change, he said.

The governor also highlighted the other new and established technology that CalFire will rely on this fire season: LIDAR mapping, partnering with the federal government for 24/7 satellite tracking, and using AI generative predictive modeling platforms. 

"I don't think that point is made enough of how we are modernizing," Newsom said, highlighting that climate change is pushing California's fire weather to the extremes. 

Tyler said the state has seen more than 29 million dead trees due to dry conditions and various insect infestations. State officials are hoping to use LIDAR to map high risk areas and mitigate fire dangers. 

"LIDAR largely hasn't been used across the state of California up to this point," Tyler said. 

"There's a reason that people come from around the globe to learn about the work the CalFire is doing," Newsom added.

Newsom also approved CalFire to use private aircraft to help fight blazes.

Ahead of the holiday weekend, state fire officials reiterated that the help of residents is key to prevent fire danger.

"As the Fourth of July is quickly approaching, I'm asking each of you to be mindful of how quickly a fire can have devastating consequences," Tyler said. "It's not a question of ‘if,’ it's a matter of ‘when that fire will strike.’"