Newsom clears path to career for inmate firefighters

California

GRIDLEY, Calif. — Gov. Gavin Newsom addressed a state in crisis Friday, saying California’s latest round of devastating wildfires is another sign of a “climate emergency,” and approving a law that clears the path for inmate firefighters to transition to career work after incarceration.

Newsom paused during an outdoor news briefing to sit at a nearby picnic table and sign the bill, which will allow inmate firefighters in California to have their records cleared, making it possible for them to become professional firefighters once they are released from prison.

Many inmates are helping the thousands of firefighters battling wildfires burning across the state, and the program has been under increased scrutiny after reports that California’s firefighting efforts have been hampered by a lack of healthy inmates during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new bill, AB 2147 accelerates the process for expunging inmate records so it is easier for them to earn an emergency medical technician certification — which is the first step towards becoming a pro firefighter.

Newsom also spoke unequivocally about climate change’s role in worsening natural disasters, referring to the matter as a “climate — damn — emergency.”

“It is happening in unprecedented ways,” the governor said, of climate change’s impact coming to fruition. “The mega-fires that we are experiencing come from these mega-droughts that we’ve experienced.”

The governor said that people around the country who believe the effects of global warming are unproven should look to the Golden State for a preview of their own communities: “It is here now. California, folks, is America fast-forward.”

The governor noted that five of the ten largest fires in state history are currently burning. He also said that August 2020 was the warmest August on record in California, and that temperature records are similarly being broken across the world.

While he focused on climate change, Newsom also said increased and improved forest management is critical to preventing and mitigating the effects of the infernos. That includes making more prescribed burns, a process that experts have increasingly embraced, in which officials intentionally start and then control fires to help manage the amount of natural fuel available for uncontrolled blazes.

Newsom spoke Friday from the front of the North Complex Fire in Northern California, the most deadly of the season’s blazes thus far, with 10 confirmed fatalities.

Watch more from his briefing in the video playlist above.

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