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California firefighting resources ‘stretched,’ Newsom says

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday that resources to fight wildfires are “stretched” as more than 23 major fires scorch California, burning homes, forcing evacuations and raining ash across the northern part of the state.

Firefighting agencies in Nevada, Arizona and Texas have agreed to send engines or crews to support California, but the call for mutual aid from other states is complicated by a historic heat wave across the West, Newsom said. The high temperatures have strained the state’s energy grid and resulted in power outages for hundreds of thousands of residents.

“We are challenged right now by the number of new fires all over the state of California,” the governor said during a midday briefing. “We’ve put out every resource we have.”

The trifecta of wildfires, outages and the worst health crisis in a century has ramped up the pressure on the Newsom administration, which has dealt with one disaster after another since he took office in 2019. California is on track to hit as many as 700,000 cases of COVID-19 over the next few weeks.

The governor said the state had seen more than 10,800 lightning strikes in the last 72 hours in what has become an acute wildfire season. Newsom said California has experienced 6,754 fires to date this year, compared with around 4,000 at this point in 2019.

In a state of emergency declaration on Tuesday, Newsom wrote that the number of fires burning in Western states “has resulted in a strain on California’s mutual aid system, making it increasingly difficult for jurisdictions to obtain the necessary in-state and out-of-state firefighting resources to respond to these fires.”

The Newsom administration has also secured grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help fight blazes in Monterey, Napa and Nevada counties.

The website for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection crashed Wednesday, requiring the agency to rely on social media and its public information officers to share news about evacuations and the severity of fires across the state.

The Hennessey fire, one of largest blazes within a group of fires in Napa, Sonoma and Solano counties, approached Vacaville overnight and prompted urgent evacuations of residents on the town’s western border, according to Cal Fire. As of early Wednesday, the so-called LNU Lightning Complex had spread to 46,000 acres. Cal Fire officials said the fleet of available air tankers was stretched thin due to multiple fires in the region.

A cluster of fires in Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties known as the SCU Lightning Complex totaled more than 85,000 acres and was only 5% contained early Wednesday. The state deployed more than 500 personnel, 25 fire engines, two helicopters, three water tenders, 17 hand crews and nine bulldozers to the fire.

The threat of more fires remains high, with a large swath of the state from the Central Valley to northeastern California under red flag warnings. Additional power outages loomed Wednesday as temperatures remained high.

Newsom signed an emergency proclamation Monday in hopes of ensuring there will be backup energy to alleviate pressure on the state’s electricity grid. State government buildings have closed early while the governor urged industrial, commercial and residential customers to limit their energy use.

The governor said he accepts ultimate responsibility for the power outages while ordering an investigation and promising to get to the bottom of what happened.

“To make this crystal clear, we failed to predict and plan for these shortages and that’s simply unacceptable,” Newsom said Monday. “I’m the governor, I’m ultimately accountable and ultimately take responsibility … to immediately address this issue and move forward and make sure this simply never happens again here in the state of California.”

The governor renewed a call for Californians to reduce their energy consumption from 2 to 9 p.m. Wednesday.

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