On Monday, high winds and warm temperatures continued to fan flames across California, killing 15 people, burning almost 4 million acres across California, an making the issue a late entry into hot button issues for candidates in races across California.
Wildfire destruction continues throughout California
Northern California was hit particularly hard this weekend, with Napa and Sonoma Counties being severely damaged by the growing Glass Fire. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) has said that the new blaze has grown quickly, threatening the city of Santa Rosa, destroying the famed Chateau Boswell Winery, and sending smoke 60 miles south to San Francisco.
Chateau Boswell winery aftermath. This is on the Silverado Trail. The #GlassFire moved fast overnight. You can see in this video some hose lines were pulled, but this just moved too quickly for this winery to be saved. pic.twitter.com/pawOtA3NKt
— Amy Hollyfield (@amyhollyfield) September 28, 2020
While some fires, such as the North Complex Fire in Butte and Plumas Counties, are rapidly being contained, more and more evacuations are being announced for the Glass Fire and the August Complex Fire. In the Glass Fire alone, tens of thousands of people have been ordered to evacuate. New fires also began to erupt this week, such as the Zogg Fire quickly spreading in Shasta County.
Meanwhile, Southern California blazes continue to die down despite higher temperatures this week. The El Dorado Fire threatening the Inland Empire is almost completely contained as of Monday, with the Valley Fire outside of San Diego being announced as completely contained. The Bobcat Fire, once 500 feet away from destroying the famed Mt. Wilson Observatory outside of Pasadena, is rapidly being contained as well.
The area was finally sufficiently smoke-free to host firefighters from @VCFD at the 60" telescope. We're pleased that we could thank them in some small way by treating them to views of Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, the Moon and others. We plan to do this with another group tonight. pic.twitter.com/dPB4r2N152
— Mount Wilson Observatory (@MtWilsonObs) September 27, 2020
While the fires continue to be fought against by wildfire fighters and culprits such as the utility company SoCal Edison, natural lightning strikes, and gender reveal party pyrotechnics are being investigated as causes for fires all around the state, the fires have also brought in a late issue entry for many local, state, and national candidates.
Wildfires become a major issue in California in only a matter of weeks
Debates, campaign issues, and campaign promises have revolved around wildfires before, especially after devastating wildfires in 2015, 2017, and 2018. But with the 2020 wildfire season already setting new burnage records, and with many areas still under threat heading into the final month before election day, wildfires are set to be a large decision point for many voters.
“What we’ve seen since late July has truly been incredible,” explained Oakland-based pollster Susan McDonald. “We had polls asking what the biggest issues are in the upcoming election. 2020 has been a crazy year, but the economy, COVID-19, California’s reopening, and the Presidential race have been at the top among California voters. Housing is still up there, and homelessness, and depending on the area of phone polls, questions over road closures or water, but it has generally been stable.
“Now we’re seeing large jumps in concerns over wildfire management, over power-grid concerns, over air quality. Ruth Bader Ginsburg just died and there is a huge scramble over the Supreme Court, but we’re talking to people who evacuated who could care less about that because right now they’re just trying to survive.
“We actually completed a poll over a few House districts for seats in Northern California. We had to create a new option for responses: “That’s not important to me right now” because so many people kept saying it. These were counties that had been hurt badly by wildfires, and when we asked about, say, immigration policies, they’d say “That’s not important to me right now” nd go off about how they need an affordable home now that their home burned down, they’re out of work, and that they want to get a safe place away from COVID-19. That was dozens of people saying something close to that. Not one or two. Dozens, dozens in a phone poll of around 1,000 people. And that would have been higher, but the phone companies let us know that landlines were out because of the fires, erasing a good chunk of our call sheets.
“It’s that big. People are picking candidates based solely on their wildfire response outlook.”
Candidates, election strategies shift main focus to wildfires in many races
As a result of this large shift, many lawmakers and candidates seeking election and reelection have been fine tuning their wildfire stances in recent weeks. Many have been adding entire wildfire sections to their homepages for constituents, while others have been calling out the state and others for not doing enough on a national level.
“We have these fires that have killed my constituents, incinerated their homes, and left our communities devastated,” said Assemblyman James Gallagher (R-Yuba City) earlier this month during a nationally televised interview. “Newsom and other Democrats are guilty of deflecting from the 40 years of mismanagement of our forests, of kowtowing to the big special interests in California like the Sierra Club, who said, ‘We don’t want one tree cut.’
“It’s this radical policy that is the cause of these fires and is leading to people dying. We are very upset with how this policy has been carried out and the excuses that are made, that somehow it is our fault. Somehow, it’s because we live where we live. There are people who chastise what kind of cars we drive, the lifestyle that we live, that somehow that’s our fault and not their policies that clearly have been the cause of these devastating fires.”
Wildfires are expected to blaze on throughout October, with many local debates being reformatted to allow debate on the issue.
“It may very well be the deciding factor in many of these races,” added McDonald.
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