On Monday, rounding out a Labor Day weekend of record-breaking heat and stress on the state’s already strained power grid, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in Fresno, Madera, Mariposa, San Bernardino and San Diego Counties.
That’s where large fires started burning over the weekend, prompting fresh waves of evacuations and sending plumes of smoke into the air and underscoring, once again, the devastating reach of California’s massive wildfires, driven by climate change.
[Read the full article on the latest fires.]
As of Monday morning, Cal Fire reported that eight people have died and more than two million acres have burned across the state this year, destroying more than 3,300 structures and narrowly edging out a 2018 record for most acres burned in a single year. More than 14,000 firefighters were still out battling the blazes.
One of the larger blazes to erupt in recent days, the Creek Fire, grew quickly enough that 200 campers and visitors in the Mammoth Pool Reservoir area had to be rescued by helicopter — another cruel reminder that the fires are an increasingly unavoidable part of our reality, even if the outdoors are our only respite from the pandemic and punishing heat.
This year, many of the biggest fires have been sparked by lightning and have been made difficult to contain by historic heat waves, which have become more severe as climate change drives the state’s swings between weather extremes.
[Read more about why this year’s fire season is different.]
Of course, that doesn’t mean humans aren’t responsible for igniting fires. Case in point: The El Dorado Fire near Yucaipa, which the authorities said was sparked on Saturday morning by a pyrotechnic stunt at a gender-reveal party. (It wasn’t even the first time a gender-reveal party has gone similarly awry.)
And last year, Pacific Gas & Electric preemptively cut off power to millions of people in a chaotic effort to stop their equipment from starting dangerous wildfires, as they’ve done in the past.
[Read about how prescribed burns could be the only way to curb the damage from wildfires.]
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that more blackouts were likely in coming days, as meteorologists warned of hot, dry, windy weather.
All of this doesn’t address the dangers of the heat itself.
In the Bay Area, the National Weather Service tweeted that temperatures were above 90 degrees at 1:30 a.m. on Monday — a troubling sign that the heat this year hasn’t dissipated overnight, which would make the heat waves less dangerous. For millions of Californians, the oppressive heat is mixing with oppressive lingering smoke and worries about Covid-19.
In the San Fernando Valley on Sunday, the temperature hit an alarming record: 121 degrees, just nine degrees cooler than the 130 degrees recorded in Death Valley, all of a couple weeks ago. It was the hottest temperature ever recorded on earth.
A plan to modernize the nation’s energy systems so that power could flow more efficiently across the country — which would help California in times like now, when energy demand is peaking — was short-circuited by Trump administration appointees. [The Atlantic]
If you missed it, here’s more about how poor planning left California short of electricity during the last heat wave. [The New York Times]
The Valley Fire in San Diego County continued to chew through rugged terrain on Monday afternoon, making it difficult for firefighters to work. [The San Diego Union-Tribune]
Evacuations prompted by the El Dorado Fire have spread into Riverside County. [The Riverside Press-Enterprise]
The recent Dome Fire left behind mass Joshua tree carnage. It’s a dark signal about the plant’s odds of survival in a climate-change-ravaged future. [The Desert Sun]
Gender-reveal party mishaps have sparked fires and resulted in a plane crash. Here’s more about what gender-reveal parties are and about the mayhem they’ve caused. [The New York Times]
Want to know about air quality in your area? Here’s how to read the state’s air quality index. [The New York Times]
Here are safety tips for coping with the heat. [The New York Times]
Here’s what else to know today
The census was winding down in places where the count was considered done — over the objections of advocates and experts who said stopping the effort now would result in a flawed count. But a federal judge in California halted that wind-down for now. [The New York Times]
Read more about why the pandemic has complicated an already daunting task for advocates pushing for an accurate California count. [The New York Times]
Get a look inside the “Democracy factory” — the businesses that are making it possible to vote by mail. [California Sunday]
Jacob Blake, like Rodney King, is a rare survivor at the center of protests over racist and violent policing. He’s begun to speak out. [The New York Times]
Christian musicians and fans, plus a state Republican leader, Senator Shannon Grove, were among thousands who packed together without masks outside the Capitol in Sacramento, in violation of Covid-19 rules, in record-breaking heat. The event was one of a series that have been billed as protests against pandemic restrictions. [The Sacramento Bee]
Mayor London Breed of San Francisco ordered parking lots at Ocean Beach to close after more than 1,000 people gathered there to celebrate Burning Man, which was canceled in an effort to avoid spreading the coronavirus. [CBS Bay Area]
Read more about the state’s reopening plan. [The New York Times]
A Black Lives Matter protest march closed down the Golden Gate Bridge on Monday. [The San Francisco Chronicle]
Beverly Soon Tofu, an icon of Los Angeles’s Koreatown and a trailblazing Korean restaurant, will close because of the pandemic. [Eater Los Angeles]
Residents along a Santa Rosa mail carrier’s route put together a celebration for his retirement. It was cute. [The Press Democrat]
“Bill and Ted are two California slackers with very good heads of hair and big heavy metal dreams.” Two of my Gen X colleagues explained “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” to two of my Gen Z colleagues. As a peak millennial, I am fine being excluded from this narrative. (Although I do treasure Keanu Reeves.) [The New York Times]
California Today goes live at 6:30 a.m. Pacific time weekdays. Tell us what you want to see: [email protected]. Were you forwarded this email? Sign up for California Today here and read every edition online here.
Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, went to school at U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter.
California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.