Mass power outages, wildfires and record-breaking heat have led to a statewide emergency being declared in California this week.
Rolling blackouts have hit the state since Friday as a heat wave, now in its second week, places extreme strain on the state’s electric grid. Though blackouts have been used by the state in recent years as a wildfire prevention measure, it was the first time in nearly 20 years that the state has resorted to blackouts to conserve its electrical supply.
“We are all experiencing rather extraordinary conditions,” Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said at a news conference Tuesday.
Though the state is putting forward all of its resources to meet the power demand, Newsom said, “We are likely to fall short.” The heat wave is expected to blanket the state through at least Thursday.
“We are going to try to work to reduce the stress and reduce the need,” he said. “But these next few days, we are anticipating being challenged as it relates to all of these conditions that have precipitated at once in this historic moment.”
Additional blackouts affecting millions of residents may again occur this week, the state has said. Rolling power outages to conserve energy consumption are also planned through Wednesday, said the California Independent System Operator (ISO), which controls the majority of the state’s electricity flow.
“We understand rolling outages are not easy, and we do everything we can to avoid them,” Anne Gonzales, a spokeswoman for California ISO, told The New York Times. “The reason for the energy shortfall is high heat and people naturally wanting to stay cool.”
The power cuts come as firefighters battle more than two dozen large wildfires across the state, many sparked by a remarkable surge in dry lightning strikes, strong winds and triple-digit temperatures. In Death Valley, California, on Sunday, temperatures hit 130 degrees ― if verified, that would be the hottest temperature recorded on Earth since at least 1913.
The unrelenting heat has created a challenge for firefighters, in particular.
“They’re wearing a lot of gear, carrying equipment, hiking to remote locations, so it’s a stress on the body,” Lynette Round, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire), told Reuters.
Newsom’s emergency order declared Tuesday secures assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to respond to fires in Napa, Nevada and Monterey counties, where firefighters are battling some of the state’s largest blazes.
The state’s five largest fires ― the SCU Lightning Complex fires, LNU Lightning Complex fires, Apple Fire, Lake Fire and River Fire ― have consumed roughly 201,000 acres as of Wednesday morning, according to CalFire.
The state’s largest incident, the SCU Lightning Complex fires, located east of San Jose, had consumed 85,000 acres and was just 5% contained as of Wednesday morning. The second-largest fire, the LNU Lightning Complex fires, in Napa and Sonoma counties, had consumed 46,000 acres and was 0% contained as of Wednesday morning.
Newsom stressed that the extreme events seen throughout his state and neighboring regions are likely the new norm. His assessment is one his predecessor, Gov. Jerry Brown, made in 2017 and 2015 as the state battled similar natural disasters.
“This is not the last, quote end quote, ‘record-breaking’ historic heat dome and experience that we will have in the state, or in this region or in our nation or in our hemisphere in our lifetime,” Newsom said. “This is exactly what so many scientists have predicted for decades.”
The state’s ongoing switch toward renewable energy from fossil fuels has received backlash this week in response to the power outages, with President Donald Trump criticizing the governor’s Democratic Party and its environmental goals, saying they’re “unable to keep up with energy demand.”
Newsom, who conceded on Tuesday that he failed to anticipate the recent energy shortages, said California, as the country’s largest state, has the obligation “to do more and do better.”
“We are committed to radically changing the way we produce and consume energy and we are creating now and have more jobs in this green sector than we have in the fossil fuel space. So we see it as an economic imperative and we see it as a moral and ethical imperative as it relates to the kind of world we’re going to leave. The kind of state and nation we’re going to leave to our grandkids,” he said.