Two of the three largest fires in California history are raging across the state alongside about 600 others, burning more than 1.3 million acres — an area about the size of Delaware — and forcing more than 100,000 people to evacuate.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Dry lightning storms and gusty winds forecasted to slam the Bay Area through Tuesday could exacerbate the fires’ spread and start new ones, stretching already overworked firefighting crews to the limit. And California hasn’t yet entered the prime of its fire season — which is likely to worsen as climate change takes its toll on the Golden State.
Fourteen of California’s 20 largest wildfires have occurred since 2007 — eight of them in the last five years. Today the state has 78 more “fire days” than it did 50 years ago.
- Gov. Gavin Newsom in a Thursday appearance at the Democratic National Convention: “We are just coming off a record … heat wave that led to 130-degree temperatures, the highest temperature ever recorded in California, arguably the world’s history … If you are in denial about climate change, come to California.”
President Donald Trump on Saturday declared California wildfires a major disaster, freeing up federal emergency funding. The announcement came just days after Trump and Newsom bickered over California’s wildfire response, though Newsom said Friday the president has almost always “responded favorably in terms of addressing the emergency needs of the state.”
It also came about a week after California and the federal government agreed to work together to reduce fire risk by thinning 1 million forest acres a year by 2025.
Meanwhile, 10 states are sending California fire engines or planes, though shortages of resources and firefighters persist. Newsom on Friday also asked Australia and Canada for help.
- Assemblymember Jim Wood, a Healdsburg Democrat: “Many of these firefighters have been on the lines for 72 hours, and everybody is running on fumes. … Our first responders are working to the ragged edge of everything they have.”
The coronavirus bottom line: As of 9 p.m. Sunday night, California had 663,669 confirmed coronavirus cases and 12,134 deaths from the virus, according to a CalMatters tracker.
Also: CalMatters regularly updates this pandemic timeline tracking the state’s daily actions. And we’re tracking the state’s coronavirus hospitalizations by county.
Other stories you should know
1. California coronavirus update
California is bending the curve again, even as conditions remain grim in the Central Valley, which is battling a trifecta of unhealthful air, heat and coronavirus outbreaks. The state on Friday reported its lowest weekly case average (6,662) in nearly two months and lowest weekly death average (119) in a month, according to the Mercury News. Meanwhile, hospitalizations and intensive-care admissions sank to levels not seen since late June, CalMatters’ tracker shows. Eight counties — including San Diego, Orange and Napa — fell off the state’s coronavirus watch list in the last week, and cases are steadily decreasing in the former hotspot of Los Angeles, increasing pressure on Newsom to come up with a game plan for reopening businesses. The governor will likely release new guidelines this week.
2. Extra unemployment benefits coming to California
Some unemployed Californians will receive an additional $300 weekly benefit following the federal government’s Saturday approval of the Golden State’s application to a program Trump launched in the absence of a Congressional plan — but it’s unclear when the money will be made available to claimants. Earlier this month, California’s unemployment department said it could take up to 20 weeks to process new federal benefits as it grapples with a backlog of 1 million claims. Around 375,000 Californians filed initial claims the week ending Aug. 15, pushing the state’s total to nearly 10 million since the onset of the pandemic, according to the California Center for Jobs and the Economy.
California will receive $4.5 billion from the federal government, with the potential to draw down more in the future. The agreement comes soon after Newsom said California would not be able to afford Trump’s plan for a $400 weekly benefit to which states would contribute $100.
3. Democrats divided over family-leave plan
As lawmakers head into the final week of the legislative session, expect a bitter fight between progressive and moderate Democrats over a key piece of Newsom’s agenda: guaranteeing more workers can return to their jobs after taking family leave to care for a new baby or sick family member, CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall reports. The pandemic has complicated the bill’s seemingly clear path to victory. Though Newsom and lawmakers reached an agreement months ago to increase job protections, business-friendly Democrats are now working to block or dilute the plan, while progressives argue workers need the ability to take care of their family more than ever.
- Assemblymember Joaquin Arambula, a Fresno Democrat: “I think we have to be very sensitive towards what we’re adding on to our small businesses in light of us going through this pandemic.”
- State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, a Santa Barbara Democrat: “In the time of COVID … it’s exactly the right time we should be doing this.”
4. California sues over USPS changes
California on Friday sued Postmaster General Louis DeJoy over recent changes at the U.S. Postal Service, arguing they could hamper the November vote-by-mail election in what marks Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s 89th lawsuit against the Trump administration. The changes, which include limiting overtime for mail carriers and removing some sorting machines, have resulted in piles of backlogged packages — and gnats swarming around those containing rotted meat and dead baby chicks — at California postal facilities, the Los Angeles Times reports. But when it comes to the election, California has workarounds for delayed mail: Newsom signed an order requiring ballots be accepted up to 17 days after the election.
- Secretary of State Alex Padilla: “Reductions of postal service during a national public health crisis and an election year are unconscionable. It’s hard to see the changes at the Postal Service as anything other than an attack on a key pillar of American society.”
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California politicians are gambling on high-risk stopgaps to relieve the impacts of the pandemic-induced recession.
Path to recovery: California’s economic recovery urgently depends on restoring lost clean energy jobs and pursuing additional clean energy investment, argues Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, a Coachella Democrat.
No on Prop. 21: It would make it harder for California to build the affordable housing we need, restricting access to the middle class through home ownership, writes Diane Robertson, a South Los Angeles entertainment attorney.
Other things worth your time
‘It’s hard to see your memories burn’: Loss from wildfires grows in California. // New York Times
As one UC campus is evacuated due to fires, others revise fall reopening plans. // EdSource
As more hospitals merge, California eyes stronger oversight. // Associated Press
A loophole allows thousands of California students to use pandemic-shuttered classrooms. // Los Angeles Times
Podcast: Rep. Maxine Waters on eviction cliff and Newsom’s pandemic response. // CalMatters/Los Angeles Times
With the Republican National Convention starting Monday, expect Trump to use California to drive home a key part of his message. // San Francisco Chronicle
COVID-delayed fishing season raises predictions of epic fall salmon run. // San Francisco Chronicle
See you tomorrow.
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