California Governor Declares State of Emergency Due to Wildfires, Blackouts

Trump says California 'forcing Americans in the dark' as rolling blackouts hit state
August 19, 2020 Updated: August 19, 2020

California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency Tuesday as wildfires burned across the state, saying the emergency declaration serves to secure the resources necessary to combat the fires, which have been worsened by a heat wave bringing temperatures above 100 degrees along the West Coast.

“We are deploying every resource available to keep communities safe as California battles fires across the state during these extreme conditions,” Newsom said in a statement. “California and its federal and local partners are working in lockstep to meet the challenge and remain vigilant in the face of continued dangerous weather conditions.”

Newsom’s office said the governor had secured Fire Management Assistance Grants  (FMAGs) from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to strengthen California’s ability to respond to the fires. The FMAGs are provided through the president’s Disaster Relief Fund on a cost-share basis.

On Monday, Newsom declared a disaster for the California River Fire in Monterey County, which destroyed 2,800 acres in a single day and led to evacuations and threatened homes in the Las Palmas, Indian Springs, and Pine Canyon regions.

Similarly, disasters were declared on Tuesday for the Jones fire in Nevada County and a lightning fire complex in Napa County. According to a statement from the governor’s office, the Lightning Complex fire were two separate fires that had burned 7,700 acres by the time of declaration, threatening homes and causing evacuations in the area. The Jones fire had burned hundreds of acres and caused the closure of schools to the west of Nevada City.

“The recent sustained high winds have made an ideal environment for dangerous fire conditions throughout the region,” Newsom’s office said in a statement. “Current weather conditions are causing extreme fire behavior, even in overnight hours, and the weather pattern is expected to extend through the week.”

California Blackout Crisis

At the same time that California is facing a heat wave and extensive wildfires, the state has also had electricity shortages that led to widespread blackouts across the state. Newsom proclaimed a state of emergency related to the energy provision crisis on Sunday.

According to the proclamation, the extreme heat had strained California’s energy provision infrastructure, and limited energy imports from other states. The result was that the California Independent Service Operator (CAISO) was forced to issue a number of Stage 2 and Stage 3 System Emergencies, leading to rolling blackouts across the state.

Newsom Demands Investigation

After a meeting with energy providers and grid operators to discuss the situation, Newsom sent a letter to the CAISO, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), and the California Energy Commission (CEC) demanding information on the blackouts.

“I write today to express my deep concern about the broadscale de-energizations experienced by too many Californians on August 14 and 15,” Newsom wrote. “These blackouts, which occurred without prior warning or enough time for preparation, are unacceptable and unbefitting of the nation’s largest and most innovative state.”

“Residents, communities and other governmental organizations did not receive sufficient warning that these de-energizations could occur,” the letter said. “Collectively, energy regulators failed to anticipate this event and to take necessary actions to ensure reliable power to Californians. This cannot stand. California residents and businesses deserve better from their government.”

To combat the energy shortages, Newsom asked Californians to set their air conditioning thermostats to temperatures of 78 degrees or higher from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m.—which have since been updated to 2 p.m. to 9 p.m.), to refrain from using major appliances during that peak demand window, and to turn off any unnecessary lights and appliances.

President Donald Trump criticized the blackouts, writing on Twitter: “In California, Democrats have intentionally implemented rolling blackouts—forcing Americans in the dark” because the state could not keep up with energy demand.

Referring to the parallels between California’s focus on renewable energy and the energy policies embraced by Democratic nominee Joe Biden, Trump said “The Bernie/Biden/AOC Green New Deal plan would take California’s failed policies to every American!”

California has pursued an energy policy in recent years that focuses strongly on renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar, and seeks to reduce the state’s reliance on fossil fuels and nuclear.