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UPDATED Saturday 4 P.M.: California Governor Gavin Newsom announced on Saturday that the White House had approved California’s request for a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration to bolster the state’s emergency response to wildfires spreading in Northern California. Newsom had asked President Donald Trump for the declaration on Friday.
Earlier on Saturday, the LNU complex fire in Northern California became the second-largest wildfire in state history, according to Cal Fire.
The blaze has scorched 314,000 acres in five counties: Sonoma, Lake, Napa, Yolo and Solano.
“Thank you to the President for your partnership and granting this urgent Major Disaster Declaration. California is battling two of the largest fires in our history and has seen nearly 600 new fires in the last week caused by dry lightning strikes. These are unprecedented times and conditions, but California is strong – we will get through this,” said Governor Newsom.
A Presidential Major Disaster Declaration helps people in the impacted counties through eligibility for support including crisis counseling, housing and unemployment assistance and legal services. It also provides federal assistance to help state, tribal and local governments fund emergency response, recovery and protective measures.
PREVIOUSLY on Friday: One day after criticizing President Donald Trump in a video shown during the final night of the Democratic National Convention, California Governor Gavin Newsom asked the president to declare a major disaster in his state.
Newsom said in his DNC video that Trump had “threatened the state of California, 40 million Americans who happen to live here in the state of California, to defund our efforts on wildfire suppression because he said we hadn’t raked enough leaves.”
“You can’t make that up,” Newsom said.
During an appearance in Scranton, PA on Thursday Trump did indeed have some thoughts about the fires saying, “I see again, the forest fires are starting. They’re starting again in California. And I said, ‘You’ve got to clean your floors. You’ve got to clean your floors.'”
Trump blamed “years” of leaves and broken trees, saying “they’re like, like so flammable.”
“Maybe we’re just going to have to make them pay for it, because they don’t listen to us. We say you got to get rid of the leaves,” Trump said.
On Friday however, at his wildfire press conference, Newsom was more conciliatory.
He said the state had created a new “historic” partnership with the federal government for forest management.
“I’m not sure staff informed the president about the new partnership we have just formed with the U.S. Forest Service to increase vegetation management,” said Newsom.
“There’s not phone call that I have made to the president where he hasn’t quickly responded,” the Democratic governor said. “He may make statements publicly, but the working relationship privately is an effective one.”
“I want to thank the Trump administration,” continued Newsom. “I want to thank Bob Fenton in particular, who is here, who is the western regional coordinator for FEMA. There is no greater partner in the Western United States than Bob Fenton.”
Newsom went on to say that Fenton had helped the state secure five fire grants and then acknowledged that President Trump had to sign off on those grants: “We thank him, as well. We’re grateful for the support we have received so far.”
“We have a federal request in…a bipartisan request to get a major disaster declaration here in the state of California.”
Newsom that declaration would, of course provide more funds to the state, but also allow it to be more “flexible” in its wildfire response.
Watch Newsom’s press conference below.
The governor said the state’s 376 fires two days ago had now grown to 560 blazes. He said part of that growth was due to “sleeper fires” that were only identified as reconnaissance efforts progressed.
In an update on Friday morning, Cal Fire said it expected to see “significant fire growth.”
“Extreme fire behavior with short and long range spotting are continuing to challenge firefighting efforts,” said the agency. “Fires continue to make runs in multiple directions and impacting multiple communities.”
Two blazes, in particular, were worrisome.
The first was the LNU complex fire, a portion of which had on Thursday burned close to the winery co-owned by Governor Newsom. While Newsom’s winery remained unscathed, the LNU complex blaze was only 7 percent contained on Friday. Having already scorched 219,000 acres, it ranks as the state’s 10th largest fire ever.
The CZU and SCU complex fires near Santa Cruz have blackened 229,000 acres, making it the 7th largest fire in the state’s history.
In all, “771,000 acres has already been burned,” said the Governor, noting that was “the equivalent of the size of the state of Rhode Island.”
“These fires are stretching our resources,” said Newsom. “We have over 12,000 firefighters now actively working.”
According to state fire officials, they’ve responded to 56,000 wildfires since January. Currently, 96 percent of Cal Fire engines are committed to blazes around the state.
The weekend forecast includes dry lightning strikes, the same phenomenon that sparked many of the massive blazes now raging.
One hundred and nineteen thousand people have been evacuated, said the Governor. Shortly after his appearance, evacuation orders were lifted in Vacaville and Travis Air Force Base.