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Gov. Newsom Signs Historic Climate Change Spending Package As Firefighters Battle Growing Wildfires

Gov. Newsom speaks in Three Rivers near site of KNP Complex.

Gov. Newsom signed a $15 billion climate change package Thursday, the largest investment of its kind in the state’s history. He signed the bill in Three Rivers, near the site of the KNP Complex fire that continues to threaten the giant sequoias.  


“You've got trees that quite literally date back over 3300 years ago. You can't rebuild a giant sequoia,” he said.


He emphasized the devastating effects of climate change when he referred to the strategies firefighters are using to protect the giants.


“I was here as a kid and they're wrapping, they're wrapping a tree. They're putting tin foil around a tree. I mean think about that: how can that be?” he asked.


The bill allocates $1.5 billion to wildfire and forest management including more personnel, and more satellite and drone technology. Climate change is not debatable, he said.


“The hots, the dries, something profound and extreme is happening. And it’s happening decades before the scientists even believed it was going to happen.”


Other large investments will address drought planning with nearly $5 billion for safe drinking water and infrastructure projects. Another $1.1 billion is dedicated to sustainable agriculture practices and $3.7 billion has been earmarked for climate risks like extreme heat and sea level rise. Electric vehicle manufacturing was also at the top of the funding list with $3.9 billion, as the governor pushed California to be a leader in zero emissions. 


Wildfires Growing

During his visit, Gov. Newsom noted that since 2020, six of the seven largest wildfires in California history have occurred. Right now, fire crews are battling two large wildfires in the Sierra Nevada.

The KNP Complex burning in Sequoia National Park has grown another 4,700 acres in the last 24 hours. It has grown to 33,046 acres since it was first ignited by lightning back on September 10th. Thursday, the Bureau of Land Management Bakersfield Field Office issued an emergency closure of the Case Mountain Extensive Recreation Management Area. That includes the Kaweah Area of Critical Environmental Concern and the Milk Ranch Peak Wilderness Study Area, near Three Rivers. This temporary closure will remain in place, due to wildland fire danger from the nearby KNP Complex Fire.

Firefighters are maintaining a construction line to prevent flames from moving toward the communities of Three Rivers, Mineral King and Badger. A new evacuation warning was issued Wednesday for the communities of Eshom and Heartland Camp. Fire crews also continue to monitor potential fire threats in sequoia groves.

Windy Fire on 9/16/21. Photo courtesy: inciweb.nwcg.gov

To the south of the KNP Complex, the Windy Fire is burning on the Tule Indian Reservation and in the Sequoia National Forest, including the Giant Sequoia National Monument. It forced a new evacuation order and warning Thursday as the fire continues to grow. An evacuation order was issued for McNally’s Lodge from Sherman Pass Road to Corral Creek. And an evacuation warning is in place for the communities of California Hot Springs and Pine Flat areas. The fire is now nearly 43,745 acres and is 6% contained. 

This fire has affected several giant sequoia groves, including Long Meadow Grove where the Trail of 100 Giants is located. The famed Bench Tree caught fire on Tuesday and had significant damage before helicopters dropped water to douse the flames. An advisor from Yosemite National Park who specializes in giant sequoias will inspect the trees affected by fire. 


Soreath Hok is a multimedia journalist with over 16 years of experience in radio, television and digital production. She is a 2022 National Edward R. Murrow Award winner. At KVPR she covers local government, politics and other local news.