Aug 21, 2020
California Gov. Gavin Newsom Wildfires Press Conference Transcript August 21
California Gov. Gavin Newsom held a press conference on August 21 with fire and emergency officials to address the wildfires in Northern California. Read the transcript of the briefing updates here.
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Jeremy Ron: (05:58)
Good morning. My name is [Jeremy Ron 00:06:00] and I am the incident management Team 2 public information officer, assigned to the LNU Lightning Complex. We will give you a brief update of the current situation for California. Nearly 12,000 firefighters are battling nearly two dozen major fires and complexes across California. Since the lightning siege that began Saturday, August 15, there have been nearly 12,000 lightning strikes. During this time period, there have been more than 560 new wildfires, most of which may have been contained due to aggressive firefighting. Those fires have burned over 771,000 acres in total. Currently, 90% … Or excuse me, 96% of CAL FIRE engines are committed throughout the state. Since January 1, 2020, CAL FIRE has responded to over 5,600 wildfires. It’s imperative to take steps to prevent sparking wildfire. Make sure you have an evacuation plan, a supply kit, and important paperwork will make it easier when it comes time to go. Remember, one less spark means one less wildfire.
Jeremy Ron: (07:29)
For information regarding the LNU Lightning Complex, please make sure and call our 24-hour line of area code 706-967-4207. I’d like to ask if we could please hold any questions regarding the incident that we’re here to discuss until the end of the fire update. I would now like to invite our operations chief, Chief Waters up for an operational update.
Chris Waters: (08:05)
All right, good morning everybody. Chris Waters, operations section chief for the LNU Lightning Complex, [inaudible 00:08:10] give you an orientation of the operational activities on the incident today. First of all a little orientation. We are a two-zone fire, we got a west zone and we got an east zone and we have the Sonoma County line as the general demarcation between these two zones. Starting out with the west zone, we have one small fire, the Meyers fire, out on the coast. Actually the fire has stopped moving. Operational resources are getting a foothold on that and we’re looking for containment fairly soon. The next fire in this zone is the Walbridge fire. The Walbridge fire is moving in the direction of Guerneville. Right now we have engines, dozers, hand crews, and law enforcement working in the Walbridge fire right now to try and slow the spread of the fire down in the direction of Guerneville and we’re also organizing evacuations and warnings for the community of Guerneville.
Chris Waters: (09:02)
Moving over to the east zone, the Hennessey Fire. Hennessey Fire has basically three what we call branches, the southern branch of the fire, the fire activity has dropped off significantly from basically the Solano County-Yolo County line down around the south end through Solano County and then up to division what’s called … Or the branch break on the west side of the fire. This area along the south end of the fire is in patrol mode which means most of the active fire spread has been contained. As we move north, the fire is still active from Lake Hennessey all the way around to the north of the fire, down Highway 16, and then down to the [Oshadihi 00:09:41] tribal community. We have dozers, engines, hand crews and other resources continuing to work aggressively along the fire’s edge up into Pope Valley and to try to prevent that fire from moving into Pope Valley, into those structures and those communities. We’re also focusing attention on moving more ground resources into the northern side of the Hennessey Fire that is in the direction of Middletown and then moving through Cache Creek drainage down Highway 16 and try to contain the fire to Highway 16. Firing operations are continuing. Down the east side of the fire, north where Cache Creek comes down to Highway 16 down to the Oshadihi tribal community, that’s it. Thanks.
Jeremy Ron: (10:34)
Thank you Chief. I’d now like to bring up our law enforcement partners for a quick update. Napa County Sheriff John Robertson as well as Sonoma County Mark Essick. Thanks.
Mark Essick: (10:51)
Good morning. My name is Mark Essick, I’m the sheriff of Sonoma County. With me today is Sheriff John Robertson from Napa County. I’m also here on behalf of the sheriffs from Lake County, Solano County and Yolo County and our CHP partners in the area. Here to give you a brief update on evacuations. We continue to work with our partners side by side and that is CAL FIRE and other public safety agencies here working this incident. We are issuing evacuation orders and notices as appropriate through our partnership with CAL FIRE. Our job is to get the public out of harm’s way. We want you to leave when you’ve been ordered to evacuate. Evacuation zones are dangerous, they contain many hazards for the public and that’s why we’re asking you to leave those areas. Additionally, evacuation zones have active firefighting efforts going on and you remaining in those areas could hamper firefighting efforts. So please, if you’ve been evacuated, stay out of that area. You will hear the Hi-Lo sirens as one of the ways that we notify you of evacuations. In addition to alerts that you may see on your phone or media alerts that you may receive, when deputies or peace officers are in your actual neighborhood trying to evacuate people, you will hear the Hi-Lo siren and when you hear that siren, Hi-Lo means it’s time to go.
Mark Essick: (12:12)
Peace officers in this area are currently being supplemented through our partners in law enforcement throughout the Bay Area and the region. We have asked for and received mutual aid. We have ample number of peace officers in the area to conduct the evacuations, to direct people to safety, and to patrol those evacuated areas to maintain safety and ensure that there is no theft or looting in those areas. We encourage you to continue to follow all of our agencies on social media, look for news updates and please, heed the warnings as they come out. We understand this is a stressful and scary time for many people. Your law enforcement partners are here for you to answer questions and direct you to safety. If you see a peace officer in your neighborhood, please do not hesitate to contact them, ask them for direction. They are there to help you. Thank you.
Jeremy Ron: (13:07)
Thank you Sheriff. Now I’d like to get an update from our unit chief, Unit Chief Jones.
Unit Chief Jones: (13:20)
Good morning and thank you for joining us. Since August 15 as it was reported, we have burned 771,000 acres. That’s greater than the state of Rhode Island. This incident alone is over 229,000 acres reported this morning. First responders have been stretched thin everywhere throughout the state, but they continue to work hard and they’re getting little rest. We’re trying to switch that, incoming resources are trickling in, and that’s going to help this. The briefing today gave you some progress and some growth, but there’s also … We’re not out of the woods. There’s still some areas threatened, some communities threatened, some people’s homes are threatened. Our partners spoke of evacs and plans to be prepared. Please be prepared to leave your home when asked to do so. You shouldn’t wait to be told, you should have a plan right now. Pay attention to alert and warning systems that you have in your county and your area. ReadyForWildfire.org is another place where you can get that information of how to be prepared.
Unit Chief Jones: (14:38)
Please pay attention to your surroundings. Be alert, know your area, know how to get out. I know our communities and our first responders that are fighting these fires are tired, but they’re doing it … They are doing it to protect their home, your families, their families, our communities. I appreciate all the work of [inaudible 00:15:05] the cooperators. It’s not just the folks on the frontline, the first responders, those folks coming in from out of state, out of the area, it’s everyone that’s supporting the folks out in the field. Logistically, to take care of those folks, to feed them, to make sure that they’re getting the right information, a proper briefing so that we all are on the same communication channel, it takes a lot of work, and all of those people you should be thankful for. They’re doing it for you. So please, do your part. Help us help you, listen to the evacuations, get ready to go when you need to. I hope for good news but it’s going to take a long time. We are not out of the woods. Not by far.
Unit Chief Jones: (15:49)
I want to thank you for your patience because as the smoke clears, you’re going to want to get back in your homes. The size of this fire is huge and for those of you that have lived in Sonoma, Lake, Napa, Yolo, Colusa, and Solano Counties, you know that this area is very impacted by fire on a yearly basis. So please, be patient with us, we’re trying to do the best we can. We want you back in your home. Thank you very much. Please be safe.
Jeremy Ron: (16:24)
Thank you Chief. Now I’d like to bring up our incident commander, Chief [Cavanaugh 00:16:30].
Chief Cavanaugh: (16:33)
Good morning and thank you for joining us this morning. As I’ve talked the last couple days at these briefings, it’s important to get this information out to you and I appreciate everybody listening in and having questions if you do too but it’s important for us to be able to speak with all the agencies that are involved [inaudible 00:16:48] we have. Currently the LNU Complex is sitting at 219,067 acres. We have [inaudible 00:16:56] containment on the incident. As far as personnel, we’ve doubled our personnel the last 24 hours and –
Chief Cavanaugh: (17:03)
As far as personnel, we’ve doubled our personnel in the last 24 hours. And we are very thankful from that. We’re up over a thousand personnel as of this morning from about approximately 587 yesterday. So that is a good thing. The morning operational briefing is getting more and more people in it, and that’s a benefit to the operations and the firefight that we have at hand. Unfortunately, yesterday in the County of Napa, we did have three civilian fatalities that were discovered and also we have one down at Solano County. Those are tragic losses that have occurred and my heartfelt sorrow goes out to the families of those victims from this incident. As we move forward, a little bit of an update, in Napa and Lake County, and I’ll try to do this every day. As you can see on the map, we’ve reorganized how the map looks.
Chief Cavanaugh: (17:49)
Once again, the fires that come together over here on what we’re calling the East branch or the East zone. So in Napa and Lake County, it’s one fire now called the Hennessy Fire. And the fires that merged again were the Gamble, the Green, the Aetna, the Markley, the Spanish, the Morgan, and the Round fires. Those all together, this morning, were sitting around 194,942 acres and that’s where the 77% containment sits. Over in what we’re calling the East zone. That is the Walbridge Fire and the Meyers Fire. The Walbridge Fire this morning was sitting around 21,000 acres. 21,125, 0% containment. The Meyers is around 3000 acres. As you heard from Chief Waters on their operational update, overnight we had some marine influence. Little bit of more humidity recoveries and allowed for some good work to be done on all the incidents. We keep talking about evacuations.
Chief Cavanaugh: (18:45)
I stood up here yesterday and talked to the community about how we do evacuations, some of the reasons why. I also said it was a very important, and it’s a priority when we evacuate to get people back into their homes. Well, we’re starting that again today already. Evacuation orders are being lifted. Along with that, this is interesting though, we’re also in the process of adding more evacuations and that’s something we normally don’t do. We were spread out on such a large geographical area that we have different fire behavior, we have different levels of containment. And so we’re working that. But it is a priority. As soon as we’re talking about evacuations, we’re working up their repopulation plans. It’s important. Same as I said yesterday though, it takes a large cooperative effort to make that happen. Not only from the fire side, the fire behavior, the weather, all the resources, utilities, everybody to get people back in their homes. But I promise you, it is a top priority for us to do that.
Chief Cavanaugh: (19:39)
With that, please adhere to any additional new evacuation orders that we have. It is imperative that you take to those orders as we keep pushing the message. You don’t have to just because there’s an order. If you feel like you’re in danger, please leave your property for your life’s safety as you move forward. It’s a large incident and we’re starting to get the resources. It’s a good thing. It’s difficult. It’s difficult on the communities. It’s difficult on the people that are involved here. It’s difficult what’s going on throughout the entire Northern California right now. But I appreciate your everybody’s cooperation. We have to do this. The only way we get through this is the cooperation of everybody involved in those communication. I’m going to keep preaching that, cooperation and communication. Thank you very much. [inaudible 00:20:28]
Speaker 1: (20:33)
Thank you chief. Now, I’d like to invite up our operations, Chief Waters, as well as our sheriff representative, if he could come up. And we have time for just a few questions. If we have any questions, please.
Speaker 1: (20:55)
Okay. Seeing no questions. We appreciate that. At this time I’d like to invite up officer Lopez for a brief message to our Spanish speaking viewers.
Speaker 2: (21:48)
[foreign language 00:04:12]
Speaker 1: (22:00)
Thank you. And it’s our honor to have our governor, Newsom, here today. But before we turn it over to Governor Newsom, if we could have our local elected officials that wanted to say a couple of things please come up.
Mike Thompson: (22:11)
I’m Congressman Mike Thompson and I represent the area that’s been impacted by the fire. I want to thank all of the fire and law enforcement personnel for the great work that they’re doing. It’s very much appreciated. And I want to thank Governor Newsom for taking time to come out to our area, to see firsthand what this means to our community and for all the help that you’ve provided so far. From Congress, please know the federal government has already provided the fire mitigation grants to the state and local government. I have legislation that is ready to be dropped if it is declared a natural disaster to move the share of costs down to the locals from 25 to 10%.
Mike Thompson: (23:18)
And Governor Newsom, I’ll be happy to tell you that we have a letter going out today with 30 signatures, bipartisan signatures, supporting your request for individual and public assistance. The federal government is here to do everything that we possibly can. Again, thank you to everyone for the great job that you’re doing. And let me just reiterate what’s already been said, please cooperate with law enforcement, with fire officials. They tell you to leave, leave. This is a very serious situation. We need everybody working on this together. And it’s my pleasure to introduce Senator Bill Dodd.
Sen. Bill Dodd: (23:58)
Thank you very much congressman. Not a lot to add. I really want to thank the governor for being here today. OES, the California Highway Patrol, our Sheriff’s departments, all the first responders, Cal Fire. Just look at it with very… so many different fires going on throughout the state of California. We understand what’s going on here, but we appreciate the support. And like the Congressman said, we all need to cooperate. And we appreciate all the local entities, our County supervisors, and local governments with their help. With that, I’d like to introduce Assemblymember Aguiar-Curry.
Good morning. My heart is full by looking at all of you that are here, that are protecting my constituents in this district. Every single one of my counties is on fire. I’m really sad about that, but I know that you’re all doing a wonderful job. These are tough times. And for the past five years, we have experienced this year after year. And I wish there was a real simple way to get around this, but it’s not. I want to thank the governor for coming today. Thank you very much for acknowledging all the hard work of all of our first responders that are here today. I want to thank Mark Ghilarducci because it seems like we’ve become quite good friends after the past few years. All of you that are here, Thom Porter, the rest. But again, listen to what they were saying, is evacuate. Don’t stick around. And it breaks my heart that we’ve lost four lives.
I almost thought I lost one of my best friends. Couldn’t find her for 12 hours and we found her, she’s fine, and luckily her home’s fine. But I have a half a dozen really good friends that don’t have a home right now. And getting back on their feet are going to be tough. And so we’ll have to all stay together again, helping people. It takes a long time. So with that, I want to thank all of you that are here today. We have a lot of work to do, but we can do it, right? We’ve done it before, we’re going to do it and we got to keep positive. So thank you so much. And I’d like to introduce my good friend Assemblymember Jim wood.
Jim wood: (26:12)
Thank you very much to everyone who’s here. I think everybody’s heard the same message. Please heed law enforcement warnings. Just another warning that just an evacuation warning went out, not a warning, but a mandatory evacuation for the communities of Forestville and the Lake Sonoma area, please heed that. These fires in Sonoma County, I represent the West zone here of the LNU complex. These fires are burning in areas that have not burned in decades. The fuel load is extremely high, the conditions are very dry and the winds will continue to pick up throughout the day. We’ve seen this over and over and over again.
Jim wood: (26:49)
If you think you’re in danger or even if don’t think you’re in danger and you see a lot of smoke, you might want to consider moving to a safer place. I want to thank Cal Fire and everybody who’s been working on the lines. Many of these firefighters have been on the lines for 72 hours and everybody’s running on fumes and everybody’s a little ragged. And so if there’s a shortage of patience out there, please understand that these folks are working, all our first responders are working to the ragged edge of everything they have and I can’t thank them enough. Thank you.
Governor Newsom: (27:35)
So thank you all for the opportunity to update you on what’s going on statewide. I’m pleased to be joined by the commissioner of the California Highway Patrol, Commissioner Stanley and General Baldwin of our National Guard and pleased to be here with the head our office emergency services, Mark Ghilarducci. And of course, someone very familiar to many of you, particularly all of you assembled here with Cal Fire, Thom Porter, chief of Cal Fire. We’ve been monitoring fires all up and down the state of California. As many of you know, a week or so ago, the headline, fires in the state of California. The Apple Fire around Riverside County, challenges we were facing the Ranch Fire, the Lake Fire in Los Angeles County. We have substantially made progress on the Apple Fire. 95% contained. As a consequence, we’ve been able to pull resources from Southern California here to the North.
Governor Newsom: (28:28)
We’ve made progress on the Lake Fire. About 50% contained as of this morning, 39% contained at the Ranch Fire. So the fire concentration, the challenge that we’re facing here in the state is now disproportionately impacting Northern California. And that is because of close to 12,000 lightning strikes that we experienced over a 72 hour period. Just a day ago, I announced that we are struggling to address the needs of suppressing some 376 fires in this state. That number has grown to about 560 fires in the state of California. You had a lot of sleeper fires. This we anticipated as the smoke cleared, as our reconnaissance efforts increased, as we compared and contrast the federal efforts with the local and state efforts. That new number represents 560 active fires that we are addressing, trying to suppress here in California. The larger fires, the LNU Fire that we briefed you here this morning.
Governor Newsom: (29:35)
This fire complex, what we refer to as Lightning Complex is one of many lightning complex fires that we are dressing here in Northern California. I was down, yesterday, in Watsonville and Santa Clara, around Monterey County, visiting evacuation sites and centers in around the fires down there. The CZU Complex and the SCU Complex. The SCU Complex in Santa Clara right now is about 10% contained. While we’re dealing with about 219,000 acres here in this complex, the LNU, that complex is about 229,000 acres. The reason I mark these two in points of contrast, 7% contained here, 10% contained down there. These two fires represent two of the top 20 fires, largest fires, the state of California has had to battle in recent memory. Arguably, in modern recorded history. There’s been 20 epic wildfires in the state of California. This complex represents the 10th largest. The complex at SCU represents the seventh largest that the state has ever had to battle.
Governor Newsom: (30:48)
These fires, again, are stretching our resources, stressing our personnel. We have over 12,000 firefighters now actively working to suppress these larger complex fires. The larger cohort of fires represents about 20 to 25 fires. So we talk in terms of the totality, 560 fires. A lot of those are smaller fires, more remote. The larger fires, the larger complexes that we’re battling represents roughly two dozen fires that have required incident commands like the one we have assembled here today, all up and down, primarily the Northern part of the state. We’re making progress on the Butte Fire Complex, lightning complex up North. Making some progress on that Jones Fire, which generated a lot of concern, consternation because the evacuations are around Nevada city and Grass Valley. Progress being made there. We were pleased by the extraordinary work the Red Cross and others have done to quite literally overnight get up these evacuation site. Their protocols, processes, and procedures are second to none in this country.
Governor Newsom: (32:04)
As was stated by a number of people already, these are familiar challenges for all of us here in the state of California. The individuals assembled in this room today are quite familiar with one another on an individual basis and certainly on an institutional basis because we’ve been at this in 2014 up in Lake County. 2015, not just in Lake, but throughout Northern California, 2017, 2019. Last year, struggling with some of the largest fires we have had to experienced. Kincade, more recent memory, more indelible to folks up here in this region. And so as a consequence of that, we’ve developed stronger protocols, processes. We’ve developed stronger collaborative tissue in terms of the work that’s been done across the spectrum. The volunteers, familiar with other volunteers.
Governor Newsom: (32:54)
And I just want to express deep gratitude, not only, and I will in a moment substantively, to all our frontline firefighters, but to all the volunteers that assembled to help seniors at 1:00 AM down there in Vacaville that had to evacuate a senior facility and accommodate their needs at 1:00 in the morning, particularly in this COVID environment where we’re cohorting individuals, we’re testing individuals, we’re making sure people are healthy when they’re in the evacuation site.
Governor Newsom: (33:22)
I want to thank all of those extraordinary volunteers down at Santa Clara, at the fairgrounds that had to evacuate a site with dozens and dozens of people with intellectual disabilities that needed all the imaginable support that came out in historic numbers to help support those individuals and continue to support livestock, horses and pets of every imaginable size, and degree. Again, trying to address this unprecedented moment in our state’s history. These lightning strikes came exact week that we were experiencing some of the hottest temperatures ever recorded in human history.
Governor Newsom: (34:02)
… some of the hottest temperatures ever recorded in human history, 130-degree temperatures in the southern part of the state of California. Arguably… still an open question, maybe the hottest modern recorded temperature in the history of the world. That’s a remarkable statement of fact. Also, a statement a fact, that the heat dome that we experienced over the course of last week has not only impacted the state of California, it’s impacted the entire Western United States as a consequence of that, and it’s an important point. As a consequence of that heat dome impacting the Western United States, fire conditions have increased in other states. And as a consequence of that, our mutual aid that goes outside of the state of California has also been stretched.
Governor Newsom: (34:48)
But that mutual aid system, nonetheless, has been activated. We now are engaged formally with mutual aid from 10 different states. We’ve been on the phone with governors all throughout the United States, not just the western states, trying to reach out as far as the east coast to see if we can get resources here into the state of California, address the stress that we placed on the 12,000 plus firefighters that are on the lines as we speak trying to suppress these wildfires all up and down the state of California.
Governor Newsom: (35:21)
Because it’s important to do, let me think again, Governor Ducey of Arizona for the 10 engines they sent. Let me thank governor Brown of Oregon for sending 25 engines. Let me thank governor Inslee of Washington state just sending down some surveillance equipment, including RC-26 surveillance, fixed wing plane and providing us some technical assistance in terms of analytics, not just engines. Let me thank governor Abbott of Texas for his support, and Governor Sisolak as well. Again, those states are also dealing with their own domestic challenges within their states related to the heat wave and yet they’re still offering support. Idaho, Utah, Montana, all providing support. Again, 10 States formerly, and an EMAC system. And we have requests out across the United States. Progress being made in that space.
Governor Newsom: (36:18)
We’ve also reached out across the border into Canada for resources and support. And many of you up here recall, I think it was 2017, the support that we were provided and the support we provided in turn of some of the best wildfire firefighters in the world from Australia. We also have requests out for that talent as well.
Governor Newsom: (36:47)
So, I just want to express gratitude for that broader mutual aid system, this EMAC system that’s in place, the mutual aid that exists and persists at the local level, the regional level, and the state level, to our county sheriffs that have done extraordinary job, the California Highway Patrol that’s helping with logistics on a regional basis. Let me thank all of our incredible firefighters. I was down there in Santa Clara yesterday, meeting with some San Jose firefighters that looked completely wiped, saying, “We need more support.” They were simply overwhelmed by what they saw. They said, “We’re just coming here,” had a quick stop. They were getting some gas and getting some drinks, and they said, “We’re just going to a hotel down the block, we’re taking a shower, and we’re told we have to get right back on the line.”
Governor Newsom: (37:37)
And so all of those folks, the 1059 frontline heroes that are on the line up here in this LNU Complex, thank you. Thank you for putting your lives on the line. And also thank you… and it’s not lost on any of us, thank you for also doing this and compartmentalizing the lives of your loved ones that are also on the line. This is your community. This is your home. And we know of one firefighter that lost his home. We know of others that have lost their second home in fires over the course of the last number of weeks yet they’re still out on the line trying to protect your home. When we talk about heroes, that’s what we’re talking about. We’re talking about the bravery of men and women that are putting themselves, not first, putting you first, and putting your lives as their priority. And that’s the spirit that defines the best of this state and the best of those personnel in uniform that deserve, as always, our gratitude.
Governor Newsom: (38:42)
At this moment, we continue to be vigilant in terms of our efforts, including some of our air support. We’ve been able to contract, through an emergency declaration, with private contractors for air support as well as secure more federal support. I want to thank the Trump administration, I want to thank Bob Fenton in particular, who is here, who is the Western Regional Coordinator for FEMA. There is no greater partner in the Western United States than Bob Fenton and the incredible work that he’s done in partnership with our federal partners at FEMA, we cannot say enough about their support. Bob and his team with the support of Congressman Thompson and others have secured us five FMAGs. Again, that’s the assistant grants related to fires. President of the United States has to sign off on, and we thank him for that support as well.
Governor Newsom: (39:38)
We’ve always said this, no politics in this space. We’ll defend ourselves, we’ll defend our values, and we’ll defend the facts. But at the same time, we are very grateful that in this moment of crisis, we also have to defend the American people. And right now we have 40 million Americans that live in the great state of California. There’s not one of them that wears red versus blue. At this point, we’re here to save lives because everybody deserves to be protected, everybody in this crisis deserves to be respected. And as consequence, we’ll extend that same sense of collaboration and spirit to our federal partners. And so I’m grateful, and that’s why we call balls and strikes. We’re grateful for the support we’ve received so far.
Governor Newsom: (40:22)
We have a federal request in that Congressman Thompson was referring to. I want to thank Senator Feinstein, Senator Harris, who just called me a moment ago checking in on these efforts, and also a marked her support of the broader effort, as congressmen said, a bipartisan request to get a major disaster declaration here in the state of California that has two purposes, fiscal and logistical. It helps individuals, but it also helps with accessing resources and allows us to be more resourceful from a flexibility perspective in terms of our mindset. It’s not just about money, again, it’s about providing the flexibility that’s needed to meet this moment.
Governor Newsom: (41:04)
And while the hots are getting a little less hotter this week, we are looking at weather conditions over the course of the next number of days where you can have some monsoon type weather conditions that led to some of those dry lightning strikes. That will certainly stretch our resources and challenge us, and we have that in our mindset and in our anticipation in terms of, or at least our framework of our emergency planning, anticipating some of those scenarios. And that’s why we have 100% of our assets, the office emergency services already deployed. We actually pulled off equipment that we were selling, we dusted that off, and we now are utilizing that equipment. We’re at 96% of all of our local mutual aid already being actualized and deployed. The 4% is there in strategic ways to prepare for other instances and instances where we can provide some strike teams and be aggressive in terms of suppression. But we’re putting everything we have on this.
Governor Newsom: (42:10)
And I want to just close by also making one additional point, and that is, that everything includes, more than ever, last year because of the support of some of Assemblyman Wood, Assemblyman Aguiar-Curry, Senator Bill Dodd, they were insistent on making sure this state was more prepared for this wildfire season, not waiting to react to it, but they demanded we do more in the budget despite an historic budget shortfall related to this pandemic.
Governor Newsom: (42:43)
Despite balancing a 54.3 billion dollar budget shortfall, we increased by 85.6 million dollars, and not just seasonal, but full-time support for our Cal Fire men and women by providing more staffing, more personnel. Because of their insistence and their leadership, they felt even outside of the budget, that wasn’t enough, and we were able to take, pursuant to our emergency capacity, an additional 72 million dollars and did a supplemental emergency appropriation just a few months ago that allowed for us to hire an additional 858 seasonal Cal fire personnel. 830 were hired in the last few weeks, just in time. So, we have more people, but it’s not enough. We have more air support, but it’s still not enough. And that’s why we need the support of our federal partners and the extraordinary contributions that governors, regardless of their party, have also provided.
Governor Newsom: (43:47)
And so it’s that spirit that I’m here humbled, in that spirit of also gratitude, in that spirit of optimism about the capacity of this state with its incredible leadership assembled behind me, incredible leadership in front of me that we will work through this, and we will get through this, and we will maintain the vigilance that we are committed to in terms of doing what we can to mitigate the likelihood of these things into the future.
Governor Newsom: (44:13)
35 high profile vegetation projects were completed earlier this year. We have expedited our environmental review to do the same. We have an historic partnership, and I say this with respect, that the Trump administration, to his credit, and I’m not sure his staff made the president aware of the partnership we just formed with the US Forest Service to increase our vegetation management, a new partnership and MOU we formed just last week. So, the federal government is doing more now on forest management and fire breaks, not just the state doing that on federal forest property. And so new partnerships, new strategies, being proactive, not just reactive, meeting this moment and providing kind of assurance that in a time of deep uncertainty, we have real leadership that is working 24/7 to try to keep you safe and to get us through this very difficult time.
Governor Newsom: (45:12)
Last word, point of personal privilege. We referenced four deaths in the state of California, four just related to this Lightning Complex here at the LNU Complex. We also had a fifth death in the state of California, and that was a pilot, a helicopter pilot, and talk about a heroic mission. Out there, even in smoky conditions, which are very dangerous in terms of fire suppression and air support, was out there nonetheless near Fresno and suffered the consequence of an accident in that helicopter and lost his life.
Governor Newsom: (45:47)
And so as was stated by Assembly Woman Aguiar-Curry, our hearts go out to all five individuals and their families. And we are not naive by any stretch how deadly this moment is and why it is essential, as the message has been heavily referenced over and over, and I’ll extend it one more time, that you heed the emergency notices and the evacuation orders, you take them seriously. 119,000 people so far have because 771,000 acres has already been burned in the state of California, the equivalent to the size of the state of Rhode Island. We simply haven’t seen anything like this in many, many years. Please take seriously those emergency evacuation orders.
Governor Newsom: (46:37)
With that, I belabored my time, and forgive me for extending it, but if any of you have any additional comments. You’re just been generous. They’re being kind, actually kind to all of you because we’re sensitive about your time and we need you all to get back to work. So, with that, they can answer every question. Any questions?
Unit Chief Jones: (46:57)
Thank you, governor. I’m Laurel Rosenhall with CalMatters and I’m fielding questions from the press corps today. Numerous reporters around the state had questions about these resources from out of state. Can you sort of say more specifically, are they here now? Are we expecting them in the coming days? Exactly, what’s here and what’s coming?
Governor Newsom: (47:21)
So, we have the 10 engines from Arizona, 25 from Oregon, we have the RC-26 and the technical analytical assistance from Washington state. We have five engines coming, Texas and Nevada, and five engines from one other state arriving at noon today, New Mexico. And we thank New Mexican governor. We have additional requests out and over a half a dozen states calls in directly by me and not one governor has not been responsive. Some governors have expressed some concern about their own conditions, particularly in the gulf coast, where we have some intense weather, some potential hurricane conditions that are taking shape and their need to be sensitive.
Governor Newsom: (48:12)
And let me be candid with you. Another issue, not surprisingly, that has been raised before, and that’s the issue of the pandemic and the need to keep our first responders safe and healthy, and what are the protocols and procedures as we mix cohorts of individuals and they come into the suppression activities out of state and what that means from a health paradigm. And so all those things we’re working through in real time. By the way, I want to just thank Cal Guard. They’ve got 10 helicopters up. PG&E has provided us a lot of air support as well. So, the mutual aid system is more broad than just engines, it also includes fixed wing and other technical assistance as well as personnel.
Unit Chief Jones: (48:57)
A reporter in Santa Cruz says that local leaders in that community are begging you for more resources with the Santa Cruz mountains burning. What more can you do to help?
Governor Newsom: (49:07)
I was there yesterday and we are providing as many resources as we possibly can. We went from roughly 500 personnel in the LNU Complex to 1059 as was updated here today, more than doubling the resources in the last 24 hours. By the way, we doubled the number of shelters for evacuees in the last 24 hours as well, over 30 evacuation centers, that include a lot of hotels as well to help with people that are temperature checked and otherwise cannot come in and cohort in a congregate setting. And we are moving aggressively to get mutual aid system up and running from outside the state, this EMAC process that includes individual personnel, not just engines and fixed wing aircraft and other equipment. And that has been supplemented in real time, including our conservation corps, which by the way, I’d be remiss not to comment on their hand crews and their expertise has been invaluable as well. And I can assure you if we have one extra person, we will prioritize sending those personnel out to the most vulnerable communities in the state.
Unit Chief Jones: (50:14)
There were a few questions related to the fact that many seasonal firefighters are prison inmates, some of whom have been released because of the COVID outbreaks in the state prisons. Have you back-filled those positions with seasonal firefighters? Are they now operational or is California short on hand crews because of early release of inmate firefighters?
Governor Newsom: (50:36)
It’s exactly why, and many of you know, and think you may have individually even reported the work we did as a state, the press conference we held a number of weeks ago McClellan Air Force Base, where we announced the supplemental of over 72 million dollars precisely to address that issue, precisely to address that concern. We did it in anticipation. We didn’t react. 830 of those 858 individuals already have been hired, already are…
Governor Newsom: (51:03)
… 858 individuals already have been hired, already are on the line. No, we had anticipated that. Yes, we are substantially back-filling that.
Unit Chief Jones: (51:11)
There’s a question about renewable energy given the blackouts that we’ve had. Did the State move too far and too fast in the push for renewable energy?
Governor Newsom: (51:20)
No, we are committed to low carbon green growth future. We are going to radically change the way we produce and consume energy for one reason. We believe in climate change. We believe in science. The last thing we need to do is double down on a future that actually created the conditions that we are trying to address here today. These lightning strikes, this unprecedented heat dome, world record temperatures are unprecedented in human history. We’re experiencing more and more of that because of climate change.
Governor Newsom: (51:52)
As a consequence, these fires are more ferocious, and they’re moving at much more rapid speed. Any objective observer will acknowledge that. It’s not even worth getting in the merits and demerits of this debate. We are committed as a state to doing more and doing better punching above our weight. We are doing a deep investigation with the California Energy Commission with Cal ISO, the independent system operator and the California Public Utilities Commission to determine exactly what went wrong on Friday and Saturday night.
Governor Newsom: (52:25)
We were able to address the magnitude of over 50, 000 megawatt demand, an unprecedented low demand in our state’s history last week on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday because of the good work of individuals, good work of industry, commercial and private industry that really stepped up. We were able to avoid any subsequent de-energization in this state. We’re getting under the hood as to exactly why, but I can only say this. That heat dome that impacted the entire western United States was a significant contributing factor because a lot of the energy that we bring into the state, that can get as much as 25% of our energy needs met was unavailable because the energy constraints and demand within their own states. We’re reviewing protocols, processes, and procedures that will anticipate that happening more often so that we can mitigate and never have to experience those flex alerts, the kinds of which we experienced last week, ever again.
Unit Chief Jones: (53:28)
The President in recent days has attacked California, both for the rolling blackouts, as well as for forest management related to the fires. You pushed back against that last night in your address at the DNC. But I’m just wondering if you anticipate that President Trump will continue attacking California during this election season. How will you navigate the need to work with the federal government to help the state while also campaigning against Trump’s re-election?
Governor Newsom: (53:53)
Always have. I call balls and strikes, develop good personal relationships. We’ve maintained a strong personal relationship with the Vice President [inaudible 00:54:00] a strong personal relationship with the President. I can only say this, and I say this on many, many occasions. There’s not one phone call that I have made to the President where he hasn’t quickly responded. Almost in every instance, he’s responded favorably in terms of addressing the needs, the emergency needs of the state through COVID and over the course of the last, at least year and a half that I’ve been Governor as it relates to these wildfires. He may make statements publicly, but the working relationship privately has been a very effective one. The reason I pushed back is because I thought it was important because I don’t want to have people strewn with some anxiety that somehow the President may pull funding in terms of our suppression support and support of our heroes and frontline employees and 40 million Americans that live in this state. I thought it was important to clarify that. I thought it was necessary under the circumstances.
Governor Newsom: (54:49)
But I also thought it was necessary this morning. I hope you noted that we, once again, are here with an open hand, not a closed fist. We will compliment as we should the support we’ve received on the FMAG requests and the support we continue to receive in terms of the partnerships we have developed with his administration and the US Forest Service on vegetation management and forest management. I say this and I mean this sincerely. I am not convinced that the President was aware of that new memorandum of understanding that his administration signed with the State of California to collectively invest an unprecedented amount of resources to address the concern that he highlighted. Had he been aware of that, I’m not sure that he would have made that statement. I certainly respect that the President has a lot on his plate.
Unit Chief Jones: (55:38)
A few reporters had questions about the intersection between the coronavirus pandemic and these evacuations necessary now because of the wildfires. Are you concerned that people who are displaced because of the wildfires could spread the COVID infections, and what is being done to avoid that?
Governor Newsom: (55:56)
Well, not based on my personal experience and having visited evacuation centers up and down the state yesterday and the protocols and procedures that have been well established since the beginning of this pandemic beginning in late January. A lot of those protocols and procedures were in effect and were demonstrably exampled in the evacuation centers that popped up over the course of the last 72 hours.
Governor Newsom: (56:18)
I want to compliment the work again, not just to the Red Cross, but also all of the other team members and county leaders, city leaders that are working in these evacuation centers. You come into these centers, you’ll see marked areas where people have to socially and physically distance. You’ll see the congregate meals now are done as individual meals. You’ll see temperature checks before anybody walks in. You’ll see tents in facilities like this, not just cots and mats because you want to cohort individuals. You’ll see separate cohort areas if people are otherwise in need of more medical assistance. All of that part and parcel of the protocols that have been established since the beginning of the pandemic that are in play, that we anticipated and had been highlighting and socializing for a number of months in many settings like this over the course of the last three months in particular in anticipation of this year’s fire season.
Unit Chief Jones: (57:14)
There’s a question here about development and building of homes in areas that are particularly prone to fire. Is it time to consider statewide zoning regulations, either that prohibit development in severe fire risk areas?
Governor Newsom: (57:28)
Well, localism is determinative, and we’ve not only considered it. We’ve put out a number of papers, a number of reports. We actually put out a number of statements and guidelines in this space regarding the wild land, urban interface of the [WUE 00:57:42] here in the state of California, well-established. I have a family home that was built around the gold rush in the WUE, well established the founding of this state, not just new developments that are more contemporary in that mindset. This is a unique challenge, particularly in western states, not just the state of California. But we have very specifically put out guidelines and recommendations to local planning officials to consider the applications, the new development in light of evacuation plans, in light of setback strategies, fire suppression strategies in relationship to the new normal, as it relates to the fire acuity and a season that no longer is a universal fire year here in the state of California. More will be done in this space. We are working with local officials to continue to highlight this space.
Unit Chief Jones: (58:35)
Would you consider surcharges on homes or businesses in those firefighters …
Governor Newsom: (58:41)
I’m not considering any surcharges this moment.
Unit Chief Jones: (58:41)
Okay. Reporters also have questions about business in Sacramento, including the issue of evictions, which the eviction courts are set to resume in just a little over a week. There’s still no deal announced between leaders of the legislature and your administration.
Governor Newsom: (59:01)
Well, that’s correct. I look forward to updating you on that. We’re working overtime. Every day I’m asked this question. Every day, I make the same point. Forgive me for all of you having to make it, many of you, again. The judicial council, to their credit, extended their moratorium on evictions to the end of this month. There was a request made by members of the legislature, requests directly made by our administration directly by me to the chief justice. Couldn’t be more grateful to the chief justice and the judicial council that afforded us that privilege of time that coincides with the end of the legislative session.
Governor Newsom: (59:42)
The reason we did that was to have the time to work together in the spirit of collaboration with the legislature, legislative leaders and key members of the legislature that had already introduced bills in this space. As I said a week ago, we’ve had very good conversations and made tremendous progress. The progress included considerations of large landlords, large apartment owners, small apartment owners, advocates for tenants and the like. We have term sheets. We have framework of drafts for amendments, for legislation. We continue to make progress in this space. And you know well, we have a few weeks to get all of this done. As I said, I think the day before yesterday, day before that, and last week, we are committed to getting it done. It is one of our top priorities, and it is universal priority for all of these interests. Everybody recognizes we need to deliver, and I’m confident we will.
Unit Chief Jones: (01:00:41)
Generally speaking, do you think renters should be evicted now or in the future for rents they couldn’t pay because of the pandemic?
Governor Newsom: (01:00:47)
We are committed to advancing the negotiations, and I’m committing to make public those efforts as soon as we are in a position to bring all the parties together. They’re satisfied with the details of the work that’s currently being advanced. Once we get to that point, we’ll make public all of those considerations, including the consideration of the question that you just advanced.
Unit Chief Jones: (01:01:11)
Before the pandemic struck. You said making it easier to build more housing in California would be at the top of your agenda this year, yet several high profile housing bills have died in recent weeks. Has the pandemic made tackling California’s housing shortage less of an urgent priority?
Governor Newsom: (01:01:26)
No. It’s always been a priority. We have three branches of government, a judicial branch, the legislative branch, and an executive branch. We are working all hard, working together, overwhelmingly majority of cases to the collective cause to advance the needs of the state of California housing. Been one of our top priorities, was last year. We made tremendous progress in over a dozen housing bills. There was 18 plus housing bills. We put a historic amount of money in tax credits and infrastructure grant programs supporting local municipalities. We were more aggressive in holding people, county to their local housing elements. We made tremendous progress in that space as well.
Governor Newsom: (01:02:04)
Of a package of bills that have been introduced, some are advancing. Some are not. To the extent you asked has COVID had an impact. It’s had an impact in this respect. It has substantially reduced the amount of time that the legislature has been afforded to work on a lot of this. That has been very challenging for members of the legislature. As a consequence, a lot of those bills and the whole bill package crossed the spectrum of issues, not just housing has been impacted. The answer is yes, in that respect. But no, in this respect. We are committed to the cause of fast tracking the development of housing in the state of California and holding government accountable to meeting their goals and the collective expectation in this state to reduce housing costs. To the extent a few bills are running short, that’s this legislative season. We look forward to continue that hard work for many, many years to come.
Unit Chief Jones: (01:03:00)
One of my colleagues has been looking into COVID outbreaks among agricultural guest workers across the state and found that counties are very inconsistent about collecting the information, tracking it, having the technological capacity to do anything about it. Some wouldn’t publicize it, even if they did have it. Others were giving the information. The question is what should state-wide standards be in terms of when employer based outbreaks are publicized?
Governor Newsom: (01:03:29)
Well, there’s a bill in the legislature to tackle just that. We’re working with legislative leaders to tackle just that. We’ll be making an announcement in that space on that issue very, very shortly.
Unit Chief Jones: (01:03:38)
Similar questions have been raised about outbreaks at schools whenever they can reopen. Is there a standard on when we will know about outbreaks at schools or will schools have the ability to keep them private?
Governor Newsom: (01:03:54)
Well, I expect transparency, full transparency. We put out guidelines, COVID19.ca.gov. COVID19.ca.gov. I encourage anyone watching that is interested in looking at the guidelines we put out for public education to go on that site. You’ll look at the protocols, processes that we have put forth and expectations we’ve set forth for over a thousand districts in this state, as it relates to monitoring, as it relates to opening, and as it relates to the prospect of an outbreak, and the prospect of closing a school. We talked about the partnerships with contact tracers and local health officers working with the school districts in this space. We talked about our expectations on testing and cohorting staff, as well as cohorting our students’ expectations on mask wearing, as well as physical distancing, the differentiation between elementary schools and cohorts of older kids. All of that available and all of that sets forth the tone and expectation that we have and the transparency that we think is foundational in this effort to get our kids back in school, which is our default position. But safety is our foundational principle.
Unit Chief Jones: (01:05:02)
The last question comes from a reporter in Orange County who says Orange County is getting closer to moving off the watch list. But there are questions over which data is guiding that decision. Is it state data or county level data? The reporter cites some inconsistencies between those two data sets. How are state officials going to handle this, and will it affect Orange County potentially coming off the watch list tomorrow?
Governor Newsom: (01:05:27)
We handle it the way we’ve always handled it. We work with local health officials. We reconcile any of the discrepancies. We’ve done that consistently since the beginning of this pandemic. We did that for example very recently in contemporary sense in San Diego County. We’re continuing to work very collaboratively with local health officers in Orange County. We look forward to making an announcement updating that monitoring list.
Governor Newsom: (01:05:49)
Let me just briefly, everybody, you should all get out of here, because this is way off topic for the 50 people that are behind this camera. I feel for you. But let me just quickly update you. We had 5,858 new positive cases here in the state of California. We tested about 101,000 people yesterday. Our positivity rate is now at 6.5% over 14 day period, 6.4% of a seven day period. Our hospitalizations trending down again today. We are announcing a 2.4% decline in hospitalizations, 1.5% decline in ICU admission, so continuing to see good progress. I announced Placer County and San Diego Counties are off the monitoring list in my press conference 48 hours ago. I look forward to announcing in our next press conference update on where San Francisco County is. We’re very hopeful to see the progress they’re making in Orange County. Hopefully Orange County will also be added to that list.
Governor Newsom: (01:06:51)
With that, thank you all for working through all of that. God bless and more importantly, stay safe and take seriously these evacuation orders. Thank you again to the incredible leadership of each and every firefighter in the state of California. Thank you.
Governor Gavin Newsom joins a local briefing with the state’s top fire and emergency management officials and emergency responders battling wildfires across Northern California.Posted by California Governor on Friday, August 21, 2020