Environment & Science

Rocky Fire: Gov. Brown visits, calls for action on climate change

Burned plants are shown on a hill near Clearlake, Calif., Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015.
Burned plants are shown on a hill near Clearlake, Calif., Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015.
Jeff Chiu/AP

Gov. Jerry Brown visited fire crews fighting the massive Rocky Fire in Northern California on Thursday. Brown talked about climate change, saying that the state, currently facing ongoing drought, is hotter and drier than it's ever been.

"It's not a game of politics, it's an existential threat to our whole well-being and way of life, so at least come up with some response," Brown said. "This really transcends one party or another. This is about human beings, our children, and our future."

He said that that is making wildfires more severe, as well as extending the fire season. When asked about whether there was compelling enough evidence for climate change to change minds, Brown said it was enough to change some minds, but not all.

"This is going to be a gradual turnabout, I think, on the part of our controlling party there in Congress, and I hope that they will, one by one, start coming to their senses, because these problems can't get solved on a year basis, or in a fire season. This takes long-term planning, major investment, major changes in the way we build, in the way our energy operates, in the way we move people around," Brown said.

Brown said fixing the problem would take an energy revolution that wouldn't even happen in a decade.

"I'm stepping up my efforts to wake people up and get the proper action going," Brown said.

People are starting to be allowed to return to their homes, said Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott. That will continue to go on over the next few days, he said. They also want to get roads open quickly, Pimlott said, noting that it's a big impact on the area having Highway 20 and Highway 16 closed.

Brown spoke with a family who'd lost their home.

"Unfortunately, the ones I talked to didn't have insurance, the house is totally burnt down, and their neighbors are even worse off," Brown said. "So these are just very difficult times, and real tragedies for the families. And so it's something we need to think about how, going forward, not only how we take care of them, but what do we do about the future?"

What can Californians facing an active fire season do?

"Before the fire season, they can make more defensible space. Now they're in the middle of the season, all they can do is study what the directions are in case a fire happens, stay alert, and be ready to leave if you have to," Brown said. "But nature has its own logic, and it's not about the bottom line or economics. Nature follows certain rules, and we have to get on the side of those rules instead of trying to violate them."

Brown said that's why he's making efforts to deal with climate chance, saying it's the longer-term challenge facing Californians.

"Immediately, you just have to prepare your home or your ranch for these eventualities, but in these cases, when that fire starts going, you know, 35 acres before the fire engine first gets there... this is just one of the happenstances of life that people have to be aware of, but having said that, that not all things that happen to human beings have a remedy or an answer," Brown said.

When asked about what people who live in fire zones who can't get fire insurance can do, Brown said that he would look into options to provide fire insurance for those who couldn't otherwise get it, similar to the special California earthquake insurance program for those in quake danger areas.

Brown's own family owns land near the fire area. He noted that one of his neighbors had been getting ready to potentially evacuate, but ended up not needing to.

Brown thanked emergency responders, volunteers and the 1,200 state prisoners working on this fire's fire lines.

"[The prisoners are] absolutely vital, and it is a great opportunity for people incarcerated to earn credit and to improve their skills and well-being, and prepare themselves to re-enter society," Brown said. "We've got so darned many people locked up, and they're sitting around and, in many cases, doing nothing. So it's very important, when we can call about that manpower, utilize it and hopefully many of them will be going back into the community."

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More than $200 million has been spent over the last two years on both firefighting crews and equipment, Brown said.

The fire is about 100 miles north of San Francisco. It started July 29.