Why California wildfires are getting worse
California has been spared many devastating wildfires so far this year. But for a reminder of the death and destruction they can bring, you only need to look at the searing images of the island paradise of Maui going up in flames last week — just as Paradise in California was turned to ashes in 2018. The Maui inferno’s death toll has surpassed the 85 killed in the Camp Fire to become the deadliest in the U.S. in a century.
Today, CalMatters launches a new way to track major wildfires in the state — a dashboard that features an up-to-date map that combines both state and federal information, that explores both the current and historical context of wildfires and much more.
- California’s wildfire history: Observe more than a century of the state’s wildfires with our animated map. Starting from 1900, you can see where fires often originate and the increasing frequency of wildfires in recent decades. Half of California’s 20 deadliest wildfires have occurred in the past two decades, and their intensity is increasing with climate change.
- The toll of wildfires: In addition to lives and acreage lost, our tracker has data on wildfire “dollar damage,” or the property and contents damaged by fire and smoke. Learn what year wildfires caused $12.1 billion in damage — the largest amount in California’s history — and more about the most destructive fires.
- The cost of fire suppression: How much does it cost to combat wildfires? Hint: A lot. Cal Fire routinely spends more money than is budgeted to suppress wildfires, and in 2020, fire suppression costs surpassed $1 billion for the first time. Find out how much Cal Fire’s emergency fund has been since 1979. Also read more about the new technology and analytics being used to fight wildfires.
- The impact on firefighters: Firefighters not only risk their lives but face PTSD and suicidal thoughts after battling huge blazes. The mental anguish is so prevelant that firefighters are more likely to die of suicide than in the line of duty. See how rates of suicide, grief and substance abuse have increased among firefighters over time. And spend some time with the award-winning “Trial by Fire” series by CalMatters’ Julie Cart.
The wildfire dashboard is a follow-up to CalMatters’ water and drought tracker to keep up with another consequence of climate change.
CalMatters is hiring: We have several new newsroom opportunities, including for an economy reporter, a tech reporter, a politics and campaign reporter and a state Capitol reporter (in partnership with Voice of San Diego, and updated to no longer require applicants to live in Sacramento). See all our openings and apply here.
CalMatters events: The next one is today and focuses on whether the electric vehicle transformation can help bridge California’s economic divide. Sign up here to attend in person at our Sacramento office or online. The one after that is scheduled for Sept. 19, on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s push for rehabilitation over incarceration. Register here.
Other Stories You Should Know
1 Newsom vs. school boards
From CalMatters state Capitol reporter Alexei Koseff:
Gov. Gavin Newsom and Democratic lawmakers appear poised to further escalate a battle with local school districts over policies that they say forcibly out transgender students.
During a visit to an Elk Grove elementary school on Monday to promote a “family agenda,” Newsom said he was working with the California Legislative LGBT Caucus on a response to a growing number of school boards, most notably in Murrieta and Chino, mandating parental notification when a student identifies by a name or gender that does not align with their birth certificate.
“The assault on the LGBTQ community, the assault on the trans community, I take very, very seriously,” Newsom told reporters. “It’s been a big cause in my life.”
The governor said he had not yet seen the language for the proposal and declined to offer specifics, but said he would be meeting later Monday with legislative leaders about the bill.
The office of Sen. Susan Talamantes Eggman, the Stockton Democrat who leads the LGBT Caucus, declined to comment. Mike Blount, a spokesperson for Assemblymember Chris Ward, the San Diego Democrat who is its vice chairperson, said, “We don’t have anything to announce at this time.”
At least two California school districts in the past month have adopted these parental notification policies: Chino Valley Unified in late July, during a contentious meeting where state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond was escorted out after speaking against the proposal, and Murrieta Valley Unified last week.
The Chino Valley Unified policy is already the subject of a civil rights investigation by California’s Attorney General Rob Bonta.
Sonja Shaw, the president of the school board, was among those who attended a rally at the Capitol on Monday to protest several bills this session that they argue infringe upon local control, including one requiring districts to offer instructional material that reflects cultural and racial diversity and allowing the state superintendent to intervene if they do not. Another school district in Temecula tried to reject a state social studies curriculum this summer because it mentioned the late LGBT activist Harvey Milk.
“We will continue to stand in the way of Capitol Dems’ government overreach which robs California parents of their right to raise their children!” the Assembly Republican Caucus tweeted in support.
Newsom mocked the protest, suggesting that a vocal minority is blocking the will of thousands of parents who helped develop the state curriculum and infringing on students’ right to learn.
“There is no state in America that supports local control and parental engagement like the state of California. It’s written into our rules,” he said. “They came up to oppose parental engagement, but we’re here celebrating it.”
2 Newsom vs. DeSantis?
Like a prize fight — the verbal variety — plenty of (digital) ink is already being spilled to handicap how a debate between Gavin Newsom and Ron DeSantis might play out and the risks and rewards for each governor.
But for any of that to really matter, there has to be an actual event. And that’s looking somewhat less likely.
DeSantis had wanted Fox to announce the debate details on Aug. 9, but Politico reported Monday that there’s an impasse, mostly over whether there would be a live audience on Fox News. DeSantis wants one, Newsom doesn’t (an aide has called it a “cheering section”).
A source, to Politico (just guessing, but it sounds like someone from the Newsom camp): “This is about having a debate, not a TV spectacle.”
The debate over the debate also centers on whether the governors would make an opening statement — Newsom prefers yes, but DeSantis wants an introductory video instead — as well as the date and location.
Regardless of the format, if this face-off ever happens, it’s a good bet that the two combatants will jab each other over the relative merits of their states — and red states and blue states in general — as well as on immigration, schools and other issues.
They’ve been going after each other for months, reaching a high — or maybe a low — point in June when Newsom threatened to have DeSantis arrested for sending migrants to California. “You small, pathetic man,” Newsom tweeted.
Speaking of scuttled big-ego events: It appears that the “cage fight” between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg isn’t in the cards.
At least Meta’s Zuckerberg is moving on, using Threads (the new competitor to Musk’s X, formerly known as Twitter): “Elon won’t confirm a date, then says he needs surgery, and now asks to do a practice round in my backyard instead….If Elon ever gets serious about a real date and official event, he knows how to reach me.”
But Musk isn’t letting it go: He replied to a comment on X about Zuckerberg “chickening out” of the fight, saying that the Meta CEO wouldn’t be able to eat at Chick-fil-A because “that would be cannibalism.”
3 Full-court press by state workers
California’s largest state workers union is amping up pressure for a new contract — and it added some key allies as the Legislature returned Monday from summer recess.
Three labor committee chairpersons urged Newsom to reach a deal with Service Employees International Union Local 1000 by this week. SEIU Local 1000 represents nine of the state’s 21 bargaining units and about 100,000 state workers. The contracts for each of the nine unions expired on June 30.
The legislators behind the letter are Democratic Assemblymembers Ash Kalra of San Jose and Tina McKinnor of Inglewood and Sen. Dave Cortese of Campbell. Twenty-six other Democrats also signed the letter.
- The letter: “State workers play a crucial role in all of California’s programs. To achieve your Administration’s goals… it is crucial to retain public workers who can effectively implement these vital programs and policies. Unfortunately, without a new contract many of these workers’ economic futures, and our ability to retain them as employees, are in jeopardy.”
The letter argues that state workers have been paid below market rates for years and many can no longer afford the high cost of living in California. It also says without a contract, workers are losing between $300 to $500 per paycheck, and if a deal isn’t reached soon, workers could lose ‘thousands of dollars” for at least six months. The lawmakers also say an agreement must happen as soon as possible so there’s time for adequate review before the Legislature adjourns on Sept. 14.
Wednesday, SEIU Local 1000 members plan an “informational picket” at the state Capitol. In April, the union sought a general 30% salary increase, as well as investments to increase staffing. That’s much higher than the governor’s baseline of 2%, but a tentative deal announced last week with the state’s operating engineers, which included as much as a 5% bump in pay for certain roles, suggests that Newsom is able to offer more.
As negotiations intensify, unions aren’t afraid to flex their muscle. Earlier this month, the union representing state prison doctors authorized a strike.
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: The high-stakes battle between tribal casinos and card rooms is playing out again in California’s Legislature.
Low-income Californians lose their vehicles because they cannot pay parking tickets, and cities don’t make money. So why does “poverty towing” continue, asks Ted Mermin, executive director of the Center for Consumer Law and Economic Justice at UC Berkeley School of Law.
Other things worth your time
Big business keeps using California voters to bypass laws they don’t like // Politico
California Hall of Fame: Newsoms announce 16th class // The Sacramento Bee
How California could transform America’s fast food industry — again // Politico
Fear of ‘Big Melt’ turns to relief in Owens Valley // Los Angeles Times
Imperial Irrigation District hires rival Jeffrey Kightlinger for Colorado River talks // Desert Sun
How climate change is pushing valley fever northward in CA // San Francisco Chronicle
California’s emissions goals depend on one of its poorer areas // Politico
Patients in Santa Clara County may see refunds from settlement // California Healthline
$25 hourly wage for health care workers could increase retention, but at what cost? // The San Diego Union-Tribune
Court rules 2020 San Diego hotel tax passed, but there’s a catch // Voice of San Diego
SF must create 82,000 new homes in 8 years. Is that possible? // San Francisco Chronicle
Gump’s owner slams SF, state leaders on homelessness, crime // The San Francisco Standard
Mold, roaches, security at homeless housing sites raise broader concerns // The Mercury News