The chief of California’s forestry and wildland firefighting agency announced Monday that he will retire next month after shepherding the state through three historic wildfire seasons, the most recent of which saw two massive blazes span the Sierra Nevada for the first time in recorded history.
Thom Porter's tenure was not without controversy, as when he took the blame in June for Gov. Gavin Newsom overstating the amount of land that had been treated with prescribed burns and fuel breaks designed to slow wildfires.
Newsom said 90,000 acres had been treated, when Capitol Radio first reported that the actual number was 87% less. Porter said his Department of Forestry and Fire Protection had done a poor job educating the governor, and the public, about its efforts.
Newsom on Monday praised Porter for seeing the state through “unprecedented wildfire challenges.”
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He did not immediately appoint a successor for Porter, who will retire on Dec. 10.
“Californians are fortunate to have had his steadfast leadership guiding our preparedness, response and recovery efforts,” Newsom said in a statement thanking Porter for more than 20 years of service.
Porter is a registered professional forester with a bachelor’s degree in forest management and came up through the forestry side of the agency. He joined in 1999 after working as a forester in the timber industry in Washington, Oregon, and California.
But his duties over the years included vegetation management, pre-fire programs and planning for wildfires as fighting fires increasingly became the agency’s top priority. He became fire chief of the department’s San Diego County unit, chief of the department’s southern region, then the department’s chief of strategic planning.
He became acting chief in late 2018 with the retirement of Ken Pimlott, and took the post permanently as soon as Newsom took office.
He said he plans to return to San Diego to focus on his family and aging parents.
Porter said in an announcement to his staff that he is leaving “with bittersweet feelings, balanced by deep pride” in the agency.