Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Friday urged California property owners to follow his example and prepare for fire season by bringing in experts to examine their homes, saying he had just learned that his own family was "living in the middle of" a fire hazard.
Appearing with state fire officials during what he has declared Wildfire Awareness Week, the governor signed an order authorizing the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to mobilize additional crews and equipment at the start of the traditional dry season, when the state becomes more vulnerable to wildfires like those that ravaged Southern California last fall.
Schwarzenegger said he had instructed his administration to educate Californians and enforce laws aimed at fire prevention, such as one requiring 100 feet of clearance around homes statewide.
"We had an expert from the Fire Department come up to our house and give us instructions about what we need to do to make our house more defensible," Schwarzenegger said.
The governor said he was not aware that his home was unsafe until the inspector told him, "This is terrible. This is a fire hazard all around your house. You're living in the middle of it. Get rid of this tall grass. Get rid of [these] shrubs. Get rid of [these] trees."
Schwarzenegger said residents must be aware of how to keep their homes safe and get advice if they need it.
"And if people don't get it, then they have to go in and be fined," he said.
In October, wildfires resulted in 10 deaths and burned 518,000 acres and 3,000 structures, the governor said.
The executive order Schwarzenegger signed authorizes the forestry department to mobilize hundreds of firefighters to staff fire engines, helicopters, planes and a flying supertanker that can drop 12,000 gallons of water in a single trip.
He also ordered development of enforcement plans against arson and illegal fireworks, among other readiness measures.
On April 29, the governor sent a letter to President Bush requesting that federal airborne firefighting equipment be made available to the California Air National Guard's 146th Airlift Wing.