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GOVERNOR NEWSOM: All right, well, let me — Mr. President, let me welcome you. And I was joking with the President. I said this — this has been my office pretty much the last 18 months, with COVID and all these wildfires.
And, you know, I just wanted, once again, Mr. President — and this day, I’m sure, will reinforce this part — just thank you, each and every one of you, for your extraordinary contribution and service, and more importantly, perhaps, your sacrifice. Because it’s been a hard year and a half. And not only are you taking care of everybody else, but taking care of yourself and your family, your friends. The fear and anxiety so many of you have had to face, yet here we are: the remarkable faces of resilience.
And so, I’m honored to be here with the President of the United States, who has honored us with his presence, to talk about the challenges we face this year. Mr. President, 2.2 million acres, so far, burned this year; 7,400 active, large fires that we’ve had to suppress. We currently are (inaudible) challenge of 15 large fires and, of course, two (inaudible) fired: the Caldor fire, (inaudible) Lake Tahoe, and of course, the Dixie fire, which is one of the largest — second-largest in California’s history.
Chief Porter is here. Of course, the head of the U.S. Forest Service is here, and all personnel representing the diversity of law enforcement and first responders across the spectrum — federal, state, local. An unmatched group, I would argue, humbly, anywhere else in the country. But we’ve needed each and every one of them during this trying fire season.
And I’ll just end on this, Mr. President: This fire season just kept going. I’ll remind you we lost Paradise in 2018, the second week of November. In 2017, we had one of the largest wildfires in history, in December.
We are barely out of August in the first few weeks now of September.
So we’re really humbled and gratified by your support and leadership, and we welcome you here (inaudible).
THE PRESIDENT: Well, you all are the best. That’s not hyperbole. You know, I used to always — as the governor probably heard from the United States senators here, I always got kidded when I was a senator all those years because I’d always quote Irish poets. And they thought I did it because I was Irish. (Laughter.) I did it because they’re the best poets in the world. (Laughter.)
But there’s a famous line of a poem written by (inaudible). He said, “All’s changed, changed utterly. A terrible beauty has been born.”
By the way, you don’t have to stand for me. Sit.
And the truth is, all has changed. It’s changed in a way that it’s never going go back to what it was 10, 15 years ago. It’s simply not the case.
When I became President, I committed I’d rejoin an outfit I helped put together, and that was the Paris Accord. And things have changed so significantly; I mean that. This is like preaching to the choir, as they say where I’m from. And you all understand it.
The idea we’re going to go back to a circumstance where we’re going to be able to be in a situation like it was in 1960, ’70, or ’80, it’s just not going to be the case.
But we can’t afford to let anything slip further. We can’t allow that to happen. All the data — and some of you are genuine experts here — all the data show that to get it to stay below 1.5 degrees centigrade, we have to act more rapidly and more firmly and more broadly than today. It really is a matter of what the world is going to look like. Not a joke. Not a joke.
Gov, I doubt whether you or I would have ever believed that more people died in New York City, in Queens, from flooding than in a hurricane in Louisiana when I was down there with the Gov, with 178-mile-an-hour winds. Four people died. They had flood stages that were up to 20 feet — people dying in basements because they’d overflowed. They had tornados, so they head to the basement, and how many people got killed because they couldn’t get out?
And, folks, there’s so much we can do — we can do. And I think even some of my more conservative — I don’t want to be flippant — some of my more less-believing friends in this notion of global warming are, all of a sudden, having an “altar call,” as they say in the southern part of Delaware. They’re seeing the Lord because they better see it quickly.
We’ve got to change. And we got to not just build back, we got to build back better than before. I noticed everyone around the world is using that expression now, but it’s literal. We’re the only country in the world that has gone through crises throughout its career, through our history, and we’ve come out stronger than when we went in. We’ve got to do that now.
We have a chance to build back in a way that not only gets us back to where we were yesterday, but gets us to a place where we are going to be able to sustain that — sustain that position.
For example, we got bipartisan support. I know I get criticized for trying to get bipartisan support, but we got it for the legislation I wrote relating to the whole idea of infrastructure. It’s real.
And what I couldn’t get done in terms of climate there I was able to put into a thing called the Recovery Act — the Build Back Better portion of it. Whether that passes or not, exactly how much I don’t know, but we’re going get it passed. And it has money in there for resilience.
For example, it costs 2,500 bucks an acre for you guys to make sure that you cleared forest floors. Well, guess what? Why can’t we have a Civilian Climate Corps made up of thousands of kids — young people who are looking for jobs, getting out and being trained to do it, to build — to build back better?
Everybody knows, if we have resilience — how many times, Gov, have you had to shut down an electric transmission because of the wires coming down from the forest?
Well, we all know if we had extensive battery technology and storage, it’d be a different world. We all know that if we invested in being able to run powerlines underground, it’d cost a hell of a lot more money. But if we made the investment — for every dollar we invest now, we save six dollars. That’s not hyperbole. That is not hyperbole.
We spent over $97 billion because of climate change, and we’re sitting with our thumb in our ear, except here. You’ve been fighting like hell. You’ve been moving in a way that few states have done.
And, you know, the total loss, Gov — if I think of it in terms of back East — the total loss to fires — of fires this past year are larger than the state of — the entire state of New Jersey in terms of dis- — of size. The entire state. You all may smile about that, but New Jersey is a big state, man, and it’s critically important. That’s how much has been lost.
And, by the way, the smoke from these fires ends up in New York, New Hampshire. It ends up — people not only worrying; you have to do it all — thank God you’ve got a governor who understands there is a COVID crisis, that everybody should be vaccinated. Because guess what? Parents are not only worried now about whether their kids are going to get COVID with the Delta variant, they’re worried about whether they can breathe the air.
So, there’s so much we can do. I really mean it, from the bottom of my heart. There’s so much we can do. It’s within our power to do it. Let’s not lose this advantage.
I was just in the state — a neighboring state called Idaho. Idaho, when I got elected as a 29-year-old senator, was a Republican state. I don’t know what the hell happened. (Laughter.) I mean, excuse me — a Democratic state; now it’s a Republican state. Frank Church, (inaudible), and others were the leading Democrats.
But the governors (inaudible) was complimentary of your governor and that we had to have mandates for vaccinations. He’s getting the living hell kicked out of him by his Republican colleagues, I think, but he’s — but that’s what he’s doing. So, there’s hope. There’s hope.
And, by the way, FEMA has done such an incredible job across the board — across the board. I was on the phone today with a guy who’s not real crazy about me — the governor of Texas — offering him help for the coming hurricane, letting him know, “Let me know immediately what you need, when you need it. Don’t wait. Don’t wait.”
So, folks, we have a chance. We have a chance, because of the work you’re doing, to make some significant change and literally — I know it sounds like hyberbole — save a generation. Not a joke. Not a joke.
If we don’t stay below 1.5 degrees centigrade, in terms of the Earth warming, we’re in deep trouble, man. And it’s not reversible. It’s not like you can go back and start over — like go back to “Go.” You can’t do it.
So what you’re doing matters. I think you all realize it, but if you don’t realize it, you should. It’s incredibly consequential.
I just basically came to say thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you for what you’re doing. (Applause.)
MR. GHILARDUCCI: (Inaudible.)
MS. EBERLIEN: Mr. President, it’s so great to have you here. And, Governor, thank you.
I’m showing you a map right now of the Caldor fire. So, just to orient you, this is where Grizzly Flats is at, right here. Placerville is over here. And it goes all the way up here to South Lake Tahoe.
GOVERNOR NEWSOM: Yeah, just to situate us and so the President know, give him a sense of where are we (inaudible).
MS. EBERLIEN: We are over there.
GOVERNOR NEWSOM: Not too many miles away.
MS. EBERLIEN: No. No. Not very far away.
The ignition started right here out at Omo Ranch.
Could you go the next slide, please?
So, right down here is where it started. You can see that first 12 hours or so, we had initial attack. We were able to bring in crews. We had airtankers, we had helicopters that really worked on trying to contain that as much as possible.
But the exceptional drought that we’re in, the fuels that we have out there — it caused it to go north. And actually, it wasn’t super wind-driven at the time. This was fuels-driven. So we have heavy fuels on the landscape in this area.
And you can see this is progression of the movement of the fire through time. So, right over here is the Grizzly Flats area; it got caught in that first day or two.
Up here is Sly Park. And then, again, this is Highway 50, and you’ll see we tried to contain it and keep it within that area. It got up into this area, moved over Christmas Valley, and then got into this — almost into the South Lake Tahoe area at that time.
And I want to say that, you know, the work of all of our — our team — we have one team, one fire, one fight. So, we’re a unified command with CAL FIRE. We have everybody from (inaudible) and all the local jurisdictions sections helping us.
We certainly have all of the work and effort of everybody suppressing it. But I also want to say: When you said “we can do more,” we can do more. And a lot of the fuels treatments that we did in this area of Sly Park and this area right up here in South Lake Tahoe was enough that you could reduce the flame level that we were able to work directly on the fire and help save these communities and save these homes.
This area, we did a lot of work that allowed people to evacuate, Mr. President. Yes, there’s absolute impacts, but it allowed people to evacuate.
So, being able to work with our partners — we have a shared stewardship agreement with the state. We have Good Neighbor Authority. We are primed and ready to be able to do more, just as you had said.
GOVERNOR NEWSOM: So, what you’re seeing is (inaudible) about 219,000 acres. They are about — and Chief Porter will talk a little bit more — I think you’re at over 67 percent contained.
CHIEF PORTER: Yes.
GOVERNOR NEWSOM: They said that this morning. But, remarkably (inaudible) and just reinforce: No fatalities. Remarkable job of evacuation. And peak — I think we’re up, close to — what? — 53,000 people in the state have been evacuated in some form. So it’s just an extraordinary effort and, again, testament to this frame of partnership that’s mutual — not just mutual aid, but the unified command structure, which is just world-class.
MS. EBERLIEN: I’m going to turn it over to Chief Porter.
CHIEF PORTER: Thank you, Jen. Mr. President, thank you for coming and taking a look at this fire, but I want you to get the whole scale of what’s going on as well.
While this is 225,000 acres, roughly, it’s about 10 percent of what we have burning or has burned in the state thus far, this year. So, while this fire started relatively small in this area and — what Jen said is, the normal wind pattern is about night and day, night and day — we’re going to seesaw. We expected the fire to go this way or this way, not this way. It went completely 90 degrees out of any kind of plan or normal path. And that’s what’s happening.
Everything is so dry because of drought, because of climate change. And the forests are just bone dry — bone dry. So, what happened is, as this all burned, all of this material went up in the atmosphere and it started falling. Unfortunately, it filled the air, and it carried the fire into Grizzly Flats. So, that’s what happened.
These big waves happened, and then it burned very slowly for about a week. And then the winds came back, and it burned fast again. And then it slowed right in here. And then, it burned — this is Kyburz — goes right up in here. This is Lake Tahoe. So then, it burned from here, all the way up through Twin Bridges, and jumped from the rim here over one spot here, and then took out all of that above South Lake Tahoe.
It’s not to be lost. There’s this little jag here: fuel reduction. Fuels work. It stopped the fire from taking out that part of that community. And then it was — made it — us able to direct the fire up and around.
Same thing, as Jen mentioned here, in the Sly Park area. And there are other areas throughout, including the Kirkwood area, that are part of that.
Can you go forward?
So, for scale, Dixie fire now: Dixie fire — so, Caldor is about the size of this piece of the Dixie fire. This is all in addition to. So, it’s 960,000 acres — almost a million-acre fire — today. Again, fuels work. We saved this community of Chester. And the economic base, the housing base on all sides of the lake saved. Westwood saved. Susanville saved. All good fuels work around all of those communities. We had Greenville happen. Greenville was in a really tough spot and had really bad fire behavior that drew fire through it.
But these two fires are the first two fires that we have in recorded history that burned from the starting point on the west side of the mountains — the mountain range is about center here — all the way to the east side to the desert, basically — the High Desert.
THE PRESIDENT: That’s where I was looking. (Inaudible) mountains.
CHIEF PORTER: Yeah. So, if you could go back, I just want to jump back real quick here.
So, Lake Tahoe — this breakpoint right here, all the water on this side of these lakes drains to the Sacramento Valley. Everything there drains down into Reno. And that’s the first time we’ve had fire do this as well.
So, these are the first two fires that have done that. In 11 months, including the time when this fire started and the Dixie was still burning, six of the seven largest fires in our history burned within an 11-month period. It’s incredible what climate change is doing to us.
So, with that, I think I’ll pass the attention to Don Ashton, the Chief Administrative Officer for El Dorado County, where this fire took place.
MR. ASHTON: Thank you, Mr. President, for coming. Thank you, Governor.
Just a little bit about some of the damages we’ve been faced, what El Dorado County has faced and the Grizzly Flats area. We lost — the whole community is essentially lost — we lost a school, we lost a fire station, we lost a post office. We lost about 440 homes in that area. About 25 percent of those people don’t have homeowner’s insurance.
So what are we going to do?
THE PRESIDENT: We’re going to take care of them.
MR. ASHTON: Thank you. Thank you. And if you head up the Highway 50 Corridor, we lost another 220 homes (inaudible).
And then, one thing I want to reference — and Chief Porter hit on this jag here — I want to talk about this little gap right here, where it hopped over. That’s the heroic efforts of our firefighters, from Cal Fire, all the partner agencies throughout the nation, quite frankly. Those are all homes in that area. They saved (inaudible).
THE PRESIDENT: So this is the mountain ridge here?
MR. ASHTON: The mountain ridge is probably right here.
PARTICIPANT: That’s a valley.
MR. ASHTON: This is the valley.
THE PRESIDENT: That’s the valley. Okay.
MR. ASHTON: Right on the bottom of that mountain range.
THE PRESIDENT: I gotcha. I gotcha. Okay.
MR. ASHTON: Hundreds of homes right there in Christmas Valley that were all saved. We didn’t lose one structure in that area due to the efforts of our firefighters and the heroes they are. And then that’s a testament of field management that allowed it to be controlled.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, you know that old expression: God made man, and then he made a few firefighters. (Laughter.) There’s truth to it. Not a joke. And we don’t pay firefighters. And the federal firefighters are going to get a significant raise. I was able to, by executive order on the federal side, raise the salary to a minimum of $15 an hour, which is way below, and the benefits.
But, folks, too many of you — too many of the firefighters are working. They’re trying to figure out how to save their homes, number one; and number two, how to, even if they’re not in harm’s way, be able to pay for their mortgages. They will pay for what they’re doing. We owe them. We owe them a whole hell of a lot more. Now, I’m not just saying this. I’ve been involved with the fire service for the last 40 years. And I’m telling you, it’s about time we heed a wake-up call.
I can’t dictate — I won’t attempt to dictate what states can do or don’t do. But the federal firefighters are going to get rewarded. And in return, hopefully that puts pressure on making sure firefighters across the board get this.
I mean, Gov, I grew up in a neighborhood — a little steel town called Claymont, Delaware, where you became — and I went to a little Catholic school across from the fire hall. You became one of three things: a cop, a firefighter, or a priest. (Laughter.) I wouldn’t have qualified for any one of them.
But all kidding aside, it’s — these are the folks who — I mean, and — and these smokejumpers. I mean, thank God we have some crazy people working with us. (Laughter.) No, I’m serious. Think about it. Have you ever — I’ve been to some of these fires because I got involved with our fire companies. Have you ever, ever been to a fire where there’s a house fire, where there’s a — where these guys jumping into —
I got a phone call one day, Gov. I was down doing “Meet the Press” on a Sunday. I commuted every day when I was a senator from Delaware to Washington and back — 260 miles a day. And I was rarely down there on a Sunday, but I was doing “Meet the Press.” I got a phone call: Lightning strike hit — I live on a little pond — a 10-acre pond that borders my property. Hit a conduit in the side of the hill. It went up underneath and set on fire the internal part of my house, so the air conditioning just was billowing out smoke.
When the fire company came, the smoke was so thick — not a joke. And the firefighters — I mean, you could not see in the house, from the basement floor all the way to the third floor. Not a single thing. And my fire service went and they saved my wife, and, as she says, saved the cat — (laughter) — and my ‘67 Corvette (inaudible). (Laughter.)
But all kidding aside, what these people do — what you all do is incredible. And, hopefully, when all of this has moved in the right direction, we begin to reward — you know, it’s not any insult to law enforcement, but more firefighters are injured or die, as a percent, than police officers do. Police officers (inaudible) wouldn’t take your job in a heartbeat.
But here’s the deal: We got to start to let people know — know what you do for us so we can get the kind of support we need to make sure we continue to have this capacity. Because we’re going to wear people out. We’re going to wear it out because it’s not going to be over for a while.
I just want to say thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you to the firefighters and law enforcement (inaudible). (Applause.)
MR. GHILARDUCCI: (Inaudible) wrap up this briefing by just saying that this whole context of climate change is really having an impact to a state like California. Since 2015, we’ve had back-to-back-to-back (inaudible) wildfires. We’re talking about wildfires like this that have taken out whole communities.
In 2017 to 2020 alone, we’ve lost 50,000 homes by wildfire in this state. That’s in the state that’s got less than 2 percent vacancy rate. (Inaudible) rural communities as a whole. These are people who live in these communities. It’s an equity issue. They don’t have the services. We lost the town of Paradise in 2018. Now, in this fire, we lost two towns: the town of Grizzly Flats and the town of Greenville. These are towns that you lost the store, you lost the hospital, you lost the fire station —
THE PRESIDENT: Everything.
MR. GHILARDUCCI: — the school. The whole nine yards.
And this is why the whole issue on pre-disaster mitigation and the efforts that the governor has raised here and has us working on — I know that you’re interested in supporting through grants and others kinds of things, but also that the disaster assistance be — the disaster assistance you provided for the Dixie fire and the River fire, Mr. President, was fantastic. And now the Caldor fire. And to work through the individual assistance to help those people who are uninsured or underinsured.
The people who live in these small, rural communities are typically seniors. They’re underserved as a whole. And so we can’t let that, sort of, hang out there.
So we appreciate all the world that you’ve done with that. And we’re going to continue to work on all the hazard mitigation efforts that do the fuel treatment and really harden our communities as much as we possibly can.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, Gov, there’s a lot that we can do, and it starts off being a federal responsibility, in my view. But there’s an awful lot that has to be done, and it can be done.
And you’re going to hear people say, “Biden is proposing all these big projects, and the Build Back Better is going to cost all that money.” You know, let’s assume they do pass my $3.5 trillion proposal to Build Back Better, which is $300 billion for fire mitigation, a whole range of things. Okay? That’s over 10 years — over 10 years. And it’s expected that the economy will grow — the GDP, the economy, over the next 10 years, will be $299 trillion. It’s going to be less than one fifth — well, excuse me — five tenths of 1 percent of the entire GDP. And we pay for it.
So, all this malarkey — you know, we know we have no problem coming up with $2 trillion in tax cuts for people who don’t need it. But — I’m serious.
So, we don’t — we can’t afford not to do it, but we can afford to do it.
And the last thing I want to leave you with: These are jobs. Good jobs. When you think climate change, think of jobs. These are good-paying jobs that aren’t going to be $7 an hour or $9 an hour, or $10, or even $15. They’re going to be jobs that are going to provide prevailing wage, because so much has to be built in terms of bridges and homes. I mean, there’s a lot we can do.
So, please, don’t lose faith. Don’t lose faith. Again, keep it up. Thank you.
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