On Gavin Newsom’s first full day in office, Jan. 8, 2019, the newly elected governor stood before the cameras, clad in jeans and sneakers and surrounded by emergency responders, and declared war on wildfires.
“Everybody has had enough,” the governor said, announcing he’d signed a sweeping executive order overhauling the state’s approach to wildfire prevention. Climate change was sparking fires more frequent, ferocious, and far-reaching than ever before, Newsom said, and confronting them would have to become a year-round effort.
The state’s response, Newsom added, “fundamentally has to change.”
But two-and-a-half years later, as California approaches what could be the worst wildfire season on record, it does so with little evidence of the year-round attention Newsom promised.
An investigation from CapRadio and NPR’s California Newsroom found the governor has misrepresented his accomplishments and even disinvested in wildfire prevention. The investigation found Newsom overstated, by an astounding 690%, the number of acres treated with fuel breaks and prescribed burns in the very forestry projects he said needed to be prioritized to protect the state’s most vulnerable communities. Newsom has claimed that 35 “priority projects” carried out as a result of his executive order resulted in fire prevention work on 90,000 acres. But the state’s own data show the actual number is 11,399.