As blazes burst across California, Newsom and fire officials urge caution and calm


After a wet spring season furnished fuels for the fires now raging across California, emergency personnel expressed confidence on Wednesday in the state’s ability to battle the blazes.

“Though the acres are big, the fatalities at this point are zero, the structures damaged or destroyed are low,” Joe Tyler, director and chief of Cal Fire, said at a Wednesday press conference.

Tyler advised Californians to be grateful both that these are predominantly grass fires — which tend to be less destructive than forest fires — and that the state has equipped itself with the technology necessary to minimize the damage.

To date this season, Cal Fire has responded to more than 3,500 wildland fires that have scorched more than 207,000 acres, according to Tyler. In the past 24 hours alone, 44 new wildland fires had been ignited, the fire chief stated.

“We are not just in a fire season, but we are in a fire year,” Tyler said, noting that 95 percent of all wildfires are human caused. “Our winds and the recent heatwave have exacerbated the issue, consuming thousands of acres. So we need to be extra cautious.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), who spoke at the press conference after Tyler and other emergency personnel, reiterated the fact that “a disproportionately high number of acres” have burned in these blazes.

While 3,500 fire-starts is slightly below the five-year average at this point in the year, the governor pointed to late rains that transformed grasses into fuel for brush fires, as well as dangerous lightning strikes.  

“The hots, we say it all the time, are getting a lot hotter, experiencing unprecedented record heat and these heat domes over the entire western United States over and over and over and over and over again,” Newsom said.

As of midday Wednesday, Cal Fire reported 19 currently active wildfires of 10 acres or more, ranging from the 27-acre, 95-percent contained Tesla Fire in Alameda County to the 28,987-acre, 16-percent contained Lake Fire in Santa Barbara County.

As communities continue to evacuate hotspots around the Golden State, Newsom touted California’s robust investments in state-of-the-art equipment to combat these fires.

Newsom in part attributed that ability to federal support the state has received for such efforts — with a particular nod to the Nighthawk and C-130 planes that have become critical to this mission.

“Thank you to the president of the United States, Joe Biden,” Newsom said. “For years and years and years, we had to battle with the previous administration to get the C-130s. We couldn’t get them.”

He repeatedly credited the Biden administration for funding “these essential assets,” noting that acquiring such equipment has been a competitive among states nationwide.

“Some of the other governors and other states are very mindful of California’s ability to scale those investments, to secure some of those resources,” the governor said.

Newsom’s name has recently been floated as a possible alternative to President Biden on this year’s Democratic ticket amid concerns over the incumbent’s age and health. The governor has maintained vocal support for the president while also managing California’s beleaguered budget and wildfire woes, however. He last week visited the White House with other Democratic governors and toured multiple battleground states on the president’s behalf, and once again strongly backed his reelection during the press conference.

When asked by one reporter whether his words on Wednesday were coming too late — pointing out that he “left the state last week to be a part of President Biden’s campaign” — Newsom stressed that that fire-related emergency measures and monitoring efforts have moved forward regardless.

“I was just here, five, six days ago, right before we went out to the White House, to get the emergency declaration signed and to get the kind of support that we anticipate we’ll need, moving forward to the rest of the year,” Newsom said.

With sizzling temperatures and fire weather still in the forecast, the governor urged Californians to proceed outside with caution.

“We have to all do our best keep hydrated, stay in the shade. Use your common sense over the course of the next few days,” Newsom said.

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