Updated July 29, 2021 - 10:26 am
GARDNERVILLE – With the scorched shell of a modular home behind them, the governors of Nevada and California on Wednesday toured the remains of a burnt-out dirt road subdivision at the eastern flank of the 68,000-acre Tamarack Fire to call for more federal aid to fight wildfires fueled throughout the West by record drought and heat.
“We need help,” said Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, joined by California Gov. Gavin Newsom. “We need help on the federal side. We need more people coming in. We need more resources. We need more air support. We need more people, more boots on the ground in order to make this a more fair fight in terms of fighting these fires.”
The Tamarack fire, now 60 percent contained, began near Markleeville, Calif. on July 4 with a lightning strike. With less fuel to feed it, it remained a lesser threat for expansion until winds began to push it northeast toward the Nevada state line on July 16. It crossed into Nevada last Wednesday, burning a total of 15,000 acres in the state before firefighters pushed it back this week.
More than 1,300 personnel were assigned to containment efforts. One firefighter suffered first and second degree burns, officials said Wednesday, but no civilians have been hurt. In Nevada, 660 people were evacuated and given emergency shelter, state Homeland Security Chief Dave Fogerson said Wednesday.
The fire is the 10th-largest reported in the U.S. thus far this year, according to statistics from the National Interagency Fire Center. The 217,000 acre Dixie Fire still burns in Northern California, at 23 percent containment. Two other now-contained fires in California consumed nearly half a million acres.
“Already we’ve had 5,600 wildfires year to date,” Newsom said. “Put that in perspective: Last year, record breaking year in the state of California. Year to date we’re close to four times the acres burned compared to the pace that was set last year.”
Calling for resources
The governors, both Democrats, called out long-term chronic underfunding and low pay for firefighters.
“At the end of the day the U.S. Forest Service is understaffed and under-resourced and has been for years and years and years,” Newsom said.”You look at the federal pay for these men and women. It’s deplorable. It’s unacceptable.”
Recent increases in funding have “been great, and we could not ask more of the men and women that have been out here fighting it, but we need more,” Sisolak said.
Newsom added: “We need to be a little bit more aggressive and we’ve done that privately but you can see the governor (Sisolak) and I are leaning a little more publicly about raising the bar of expectation with those partners on those early suppression strategies. You can’t walk away, not with this climate, not with this drought.”
Asked about the initial decision by authorities not to respond aggressively to the Tamarack Fire, which critics have condemned, Sisolak defended the respective states’ actions.
“It’s easy to play Monday morning quarterback and say you should have done this, you should have done that,” he said. “They made the best judgment they could at the time. But they should not be in a position where they have to allocate such very limited resources to such an incredible demand that we have to pick and choose.”
“These folks that are making these decisions should not have to prioritize A over B over C, they should have enough resources to tackle all of these fires simultaneously, so we can nip them when they’re smaller and they don’t get bigger,” he added. “That would solve our problem.”