Never has so much of California burned. And as powerful winds continue to blast the state, the likelihood of historic fires metastasizing and others exploding looms large for overworked firefighters and exhausted residents.
In Southern California, strong Santa Ana winds could push the Bobcat fire toward homes in foothill communities. The fire, which is currently 0% contained, has nearly doubled in size since Monday. In Northern California, powerful Diablo winds led to PG&E power shutoffs in 22 counties late Monday night and threaten to exacerbate three of the four largest fires in state history. Meanwhile, new fires bloomed Tuesday, including the Fork Fire in El Dorado County.
- Noah Diffenbaugh, a Stanford climate scientist: “It’s hard to come up with a scenario that is higher risk. … We haven’t gone into a wind event in California with this many large fires burning. Just from that perspective, we are in uncharted territory.”
Fires have already burned more than 2.2 million acres so far this year, a record and significantly more than the 118,000 acres burned by this time last year, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday.
- Newsom: “This is a challenging year. It’s historic in terms of the magnitude, scope and consequence. And it also has required a deep reservoir of resource.”
Nearly 14,000 firefighters are attacking 25 major wildfires, including contingents from other states and countries. Nevertheless, forces are stretched so thin that in some areas residents have taken it upon themselves to defend their communities.
Newsom praised the heroism of firefighters and the National Guard for rescuing hundreds of people and pets via military helicopter from the destructive Creek Fire on Monday and Tuesday.
The governor also tentatively praised PG&E for its handling of the shutoffs, a marked contrast to his evisceration of the utility’s shutoffs last year.
- Newsom: “There’s certainly been improvement in that space. … A year ago, I would have imagined more customers being impacted for a longer period of time. There was more precision, there’s been more communication. But … we’re not where we yet need to be.”
Other stories you should know
1. Your guide to the 2020 election
With the November election less than 60 days away and a record 21 million Californians registered to vote, it’s time to brush up on everything you need to know before casting your ballot this fall and making decisions that could transform the Golden State for years. And what better place to turn than CalMatters’ California 2020 Election Guide? In this comprehensive guide, you will find:
- A breakdown of the 12 statewide propositions, what they would do and who’s bankrolling the supporting and opposing campaigns. Major props to watch: Prop. 15 (hiking taxes on large commercial properties), Prop. 16 (restoring affirmative action), Prop. 20 (tightening criminal sentencing), Prop. 22 (gig-worker classification and benefits), and Prop. 25 (abolishing cash bail).
- We also have videos that explain each proposition in 1 minute. Check them out here!
- A look at competitive races for seats in the California Assembly and California Senate — and what’s at stake in each one.
- Oh, and here’s a breakdown of key races for California’s seats in the U.S. Congress.
- We’re not done yet — here’s a look at how President Donald Trump is casting California as a cautionary tale amid the election and how Democratic candidates Joe Biden and Kamala Harris want to make the United States more like California.
- Confused about voting by mail, how to register to vote, or something else? Check out our answers to all of your voting-related questions here.
2. Is California’s bullet train doomed?
Things aren’t looking good for California’s ambitious high-speed-rail project. Although the project was significantly downsized last year, it remains years behind schedule and is grappling with a budget shortfall of more than $1 billion amid the pandemic, leading the California High-Speed Rail Authority to launch a comprehensive reevaluation of its plans, the Los Angeles Times reports. Meanwhile, the rail authority paid more than $500 million for causing delays to various construction firms, with another $500 million claim pending. And it identified 52 “critical” problems in Fresno alone that could delay the beleaguered project even longer.
- Assemblymember Jim Frazier, a Discovery Bay Democrat: “I just want the truth. I want an independent analysis of what can be accomplished and how much it is going to cost.”
3. Will California certify peer mental health providers?
California is one of two states that don’t certify peer providers — people with their own histories of mental illness — to help others navigate similar challenges, but that could change if Newsom signs a bill headed to his desk, CalMatters’ Jocelyn Wiener reports. It’s the third time state Sen. Jim Beall, a San Jose Democrat, has tried to pass peer support certification. Prior attempts were vetoed by former Gov. Jerry Brown and by Newsom, both of whom cited increased costs to the state.
- Beall: “It’s almost unconscionable to not have boots on the ground helping people that lived like experiences. … It’s not understandable why they don’t want to spend a little bit of money to get this thing going.”
- Peter Murphy of the peer-led Mental Health Association of San Francisco: “What drives me is that I don’t want anyone to feel like they have no voice. A lot of the time I felt like I had no voice. I felt ashamed of having mental health issues. And I want people to know they don’t have to feel that way. There are people that have walked in their shoes.”
4. The complications of distributing a COVID vaccine in California
Just another challenge California has to prepare for: distributing a coronavirus vaccine to millions of residents — potentially as soon as Nov. 1, under an urgent new request from the federal government, CalMatters’ Barbara Feder Ostrov reports. The request has alarmed public health experts, who fear that federal authorities may be under pressure from President Donald Trump to approve a vaccine before it is adequately studied for safety and effectiveness. Nevertheless, as the Golden State starts its vaccine planning, health officials are staring down a series of immense logistical challenges. Not only do Californians speak 220 languages and live in 58 counties that stretch across 164,000 square miles, there is also significant political polarization, with recent polls showing that one in three Americans would decline an FDA-approved coronavirus vaccine. And then there’s the question of which people and regions should be prioritized for the vaccine first.