SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK, Calif. -- California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday approved nearly $1 billion in new spending to prevent wildfires, signaling a policy shift in a state that historically focused more on putting out fires than stopping them before they start.
California spent $3.4 billion on wildfire protection last year, more than quadruple the level 15 years ago and a reflection of the reality that wildfires are getting bigger and more destructive from climate change. Six of the state's 10 largest wildfires have happened in the past two years.
But state officials have spent the vast majority of that money on extinguishing fires, a job that has become harder as the fires have gotten bigger and hotter. This year, Newsom and the state Legislature agreed to dramatically increase spending on prevention.
The initial outlay was about $500 million but with a record-breaking budget surplus they were able to add nearly $1 billion more for a total of $1.5 billion.
The governor signed the bill while visiting Tulare County on Thursday to tour the burn area of the KNP Complex Fire in the Sequoia National Forest. The wildfire which was sparked by lightning two weeks ago has charred more than 36,000 acres with no containment.
Most of the wildfire prevention money will pay for things like clearing brush and dead trees that act as kindling when fires start, causing them to quickly burn out of control before firefighters can contain them.
There's money to hire inspectors to make sure newer homes built in the state's wildfire-prone areas comply with building codes requiring fire-resistant materials. And there's money for the state to intentionally set fires when conditions are right to burn away fuel that would otherwise help larger fires burn during the dry season.
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The KNP Complex Fire has forced people to evacuate their homes and shut down both Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks as crews continue to fight the flames.
Video shows smoke appearing to pour out from the trees and blocking the sun. Flames have also surrounded the base of some of the smaller trees.
As far as protective measures in place, flame-resistant wrap remains and is credited with helping save sequoias in the Giant Forest area.
Mandatory evacuation orders remain in effect for a portion of Three Rivers.
New evacuation warnings were issued Wednesday afternoon for Eshom and Heartland Camp, including Eshom Valley Drive, from Fresno County Line, South to Tarbell Pocket on Eshom Valley Drive, and North Mountain Road, 468 North to the County line.
Smoke from the wildfire was still impacting Valley residents on Thursday morning but was expected to clear throughout the day. Health officials are urging people to limit their time outdoors as much as possible.
The money Newsom approved is the final piece of the state's $262.5 billion operating budget. The spending Newsom approved Thursday also includes $1.2 billion for things like water recycling projects, cleaning up contaminated water sources and grants to help communities plan for climate change.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.