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As Wildfires Burn In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom Declares A State Of Emergency


As we've been reporting, thousands of acres are on fire in California. The flames have forced people from all over the state to flee, both from wine country in the north and parts of Los Angeles in the south. The state's electric company, Pacific Gas and Electric, has cut power to nearly a million customers in an effort to avoid sparking new fires. And in the weather forecast - more high winds, which can spread these flames.

California Governor Gavin Newsom has declared a state of emergency in the state, and he joins us now. Thank you for taking the time on such a busy day.

GAVIN NEWSOM: Nice to be with you.

SHAPIRO: When you have hurricane-strength winds spreading these fires across miles, is there anything to be done other than just get out of the way?

NEWSOM: No, and there's a lot to be done in terms of prepositioning in anticipation. The sophistication of these analytics related to data collection and weather really has aided our efforts to suppress over 330 fires just in the last 24 hours that haven't made national news. So you have these anomalies, these larger fires, but it belies the good work that's done every single day in these extreme red-flag conditions with high winds that we are able to anticipate and are able to address in real time.

SHAPIRO: It's chilling to think of how much worse it could have been if those things weren't in place, given how bad they are right now.

NEWSOM: Yeah, I think that's true. I mean - and also is true - the incredible heroism of the men and women in uniform on the frontlines. I mean, we have over 4,000 personnel working on that Kincaid fire in Northern California in Sonoma County. We have over 150 engines that have come in from other states, from Montana to Wyoming. Oregon governor sent down 75 fire engines. So we can't do it alone, but we're doing as well as we possibly can under the circumstances.

SHAPIRO: So many thousands of people have evacuated, especially in Northern California. Shelters are already full to capacity. So as these fires spread and more people are told to evacuate, do you have the resources to care for people who are at least temporarily without homes?

NEWSOM: Yeah, we have 4,300 available shelter units last night, about 3,073 in our shelter count. So we have capacity. We also have the ability to surge to 10,000.

SHAPIRO: Part of fire prevention, according to the power company PG&E, is these blackouts for people all across the state who are furious that they are being told to go without power for days on end. And the power companies say this may continue for a decade or more. Is there anything you can tell Californians who are saying that they can't live like this?

NEWSOM: Yeah, that won't happen. That is unacceptable. I completely reject this notion that it's going to take 10 years. Look. We've had a decade-plus of mismanagement of our largest investor-owned utility, PG&E - greed and complete dismissal of public safety. And as a consequence of that lack of investment, they've got a grid that is not modern. So as a consequence, the scale of these blackouts is so much larger. That cannot continue, and we have a specific strategy to help them help themselves get out of this. But it's not going to happen overnight.

SHAPIRO: Just one final question, Governor Newsom. You said today that the federal government has been a strong partner with California on this, and the Trump administration has been fighting California for more than two years on everything from homelessness to climate change. Are you confident going forward that Washington will give you the help your state needs?

NEWSOM: No, I'm not, but that's just an honest response to your question. I am hopeful, but I'm not confident. The war on California, California values, is precipitated in over 60 lawsuits against the Trump administration. They're trying to take away our ability to protect our air and clean water, and they're threatening to take away billions of dollars of public safety grants and transportation funding.

That said, every single request we've made of the Trump administration to get through these wildfires has been met. They have been absolutely responsive, and I have been very public in acknowledging that and applauding that. But I cannot suggest that just because they've done this in this case that I have confidence in the future.

SHAPIRO: Governor Gavin Newsom, Democrat of California. Thank you for your time today.

NEWSOM: Thanks for having me.


And we want to note that through a spokesperson, PG&E told NPR they are, quote, "constantly working to minimize the impact of these safety shut-offs while prioritizing public safety." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.