California Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders are working on a plan to establish better policies to deal with wildfires.

The announcement comes as a fire in northern California’s Yolo County burns that has already devoured 70,000 acres since it ignited Saturday.

Brown, Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, Senate Republican Leader Patricia Bates and Assembly Republican Leader Brian Dahle, said Monday that they would accelerate planning for wildfires and disasters by moving Senate Bill 901 introduced by Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, to a conference committee.

“Wildfires and extreme weather are more destructive than ever and that’s why we must take decisive action to protect the lives and property of the people of California,” the governor and legislative leaders said in a joint statement.

Flames burn from a destroyed home's natural gas line during the Skirball Fire in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Wednesday, December 6, 2017.
More than 400 acres burned during December's Skirball fire in Los Angeles. Fourth quarter fires in northern and southern California last year were among the most devastating in the state's history. Bloomberg News

Brown and legislative leaders initially met in March to work on methods of better preparing the state for wildfires and natural disasters.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has already battled more than 53,000 acres of wildfires this year, compared with an average of 23,000 acres over the same time in previous years, officials said. Four of California’s five most destructive wildfires on record have burned in the last 15 years.

The committee will consider provisions of the plan outlined in March to update rules and regulations for utility services in light of the changing climate and the increased severity and frequency of weather events.

Those include strengthening fire prevention activities such as vegetation removal, infrastructure maintenance, utility company inspections, and temporary shut off of power during extreme weather.

The measures would ensure the fair allocation of wildfire prevention and response costs in a manner that protects ratepayers and requires utilities to annually submit more expansive and detailed wildfire and emergency preparedness plans to the state.

The legislation would implement these changes in the future, and nothing in the bill would affect any potential liability for last year’s historic and massively destructive wildfires in northern California.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co., which could be liable for billions of dollars in costs for those fires, has pushed state lawmakers to change a law that they say holds the utility responsible for wildfire damage even if it follows safety rules.

Subscribe Now

Independent and authoritative analysis and perspective for the bond buying industry.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.