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Newsom: State Will 'Meet The Moment' In Face Of Wildfire, Energy Challenges

SACRAMENTO (CBS SF) -- California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday said he was focusing every resource on battling dozens of raging wildfires and thanked residents for conserving electricity during the recent energy crisis spurred by the ongoing heat wave.

The state has been ravaged by fires since Sunday's freak thunderstorm produced hundreds of lightning strikes that sparked the multitude of blazes.

Newsom opened his remarks Wednesday with a focus on the historic heat wave that produced world record 130 degree heat in Death Valley earlier this week. The extraordinary weather has led to multiple red-flag warnings and nearly 11,000 lightning strikes in the state over the past 72 hours.

The governor said that this wildfire season in California has been incredibly active, with the state dealing with 6,754 fires as of Aug. 18 this year versus only 4,007 fires on the same date during last year's fire season.

Related: Bay Area Wildfires

Newsom said that currently were 367 known fires burning across California, with 23 major fires or complexes made up of multiple fires among them.

On Tuesday, Newsom declared a statewide emergency to make more resources as well as state and federal funding available to fight the wildfires raging across California.

While progress has been made on some of the large fires that started burning last week and earlier -- such as the Lake Fire and Ranch Fire in Southern Calfornia and the Loyalton Fire burning near the California-Nevada border -- a majority of the newer fires remained at or near zero containment.

Of the major new fires, the CZU August Lighning Complex in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties, the LNU Lightning Complex in Napa and Sonoma counties and the Carmel Fire in Monterey County are all currently at zero containment. The Jones Fire near Grass Valley is only at five percent containment.

While the state is facing enormous challenges with the current flurry of wildfire, Newsom said California was in a far better position to fight the fires today than in years past.

"What has occurred over the last 72 hours has certainly stretched the resources of this state. That said, we are in a better state of preparedness," explained Newsom. "I've had multiple press conferences like this over the course of the last few months talking about some of our efforts in vegetation management and forest management."

The governor touted new partnerships with the U.S. Forest Service and the fact that the budget for Cal Fire was increased despite the fiscal challenges of COVID-19, increasing available funds which allowed more full-time firefighters to be hired.

Newsom also noted that the California has requested some mutual aid from Arizona, Nevada and Texas which has been approved, despite the similar struggles with heat those states are facing.

"The stretch of these requests is not lost on anyone following this space.
When you have a west coast heat wave, we have fire activity all across the western United States, putting pressure on those assets within the states and that includes up in the Pacific North Coast as well," said Newsom.
"We have a world class fire fighting force, world class equipment that we have made substantial investment into over the last four or five years to upgrade."

Newsom said the state was putting "everything we have on these fires" and expressed gratitude for the assistance being provided by other western states.

The governor went on to address the challenges the weather has created with the state's power supply and noted that action taken had helped eliminate the need for rotating outages the past three evenings, with conservation by consumers helping the cause.

Newsom said Wednesday would be the last day residents would be facing a Flex Alert during the current heat wave and that the state would be moving the hours of California ISO Flex Alerts from 3 p.m.-10 p.m. to 2 p.m.-9 p.m.

"Today, we believe, will be another challenging day, but we're up to the task. You're up to the task. You've proven that Sunday night, you proved it on Monday, you proved that on Tuesday, last night," said Newsom. "Tonight, we believe this is the last night we really need everybody to do everything in their power to flex their power use and consumption."

Newsom credited the U.S. Navy, vehicle manufacturer Tesla and petroleum companies like Chevron and Marathon for their efforts to provide additional energy generation to the state and reduce their normally high energy use in recent days.

The state has also tapped into its additional clean energy resources via the Hetch Hetchy hydroelectric plant and the state's solar plants.

The governor also mentioned the investigation into the sudden energy shortage that arose last Friday, saying that on Wednesday he would be provided with some answers from the agencies involved.

"I want to remind everybody that we have an investigation underway. We have the spirit of collaboration with the California Energy Commission, the PUC and the ISO," Newsom said. "Today, they will be providing a response to my request into those three agencies' shared responsibility to forecast the need for megawatt usage, and look into how and what's necessary to procure and produce that. So we're going to get some more clarification in that space, but a deeper investigation as it relates to the implications for the future, so this will never happen again. We are working aggressively to see to it that's the case."

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