Brown Sees 'Damn Serious' Fire Situation, Costs Top $212 Million

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Gov. Jerry Brown, alongside his director of emergency services, Mark Ghilarducci, at a Sept. 14 news conference in Rancho Cordova, California. (John Myers/KQED)

Gov. Jerry Brown, after being briefed on a fire season that went from bad to worse over the course of a weekend, warned Californians to brace themselves for what's in store.

"This is damn serious stuff," said Brown at a Monday morning briefing with fire and state emergency officials outside Sacramento. "Firefighters have to be careful, but so do people who live out in their cabins or in their homes."

The governor's meeting with top officials comes as his administration's budget team pegged the cost of California's wildfire season at $212.6 million through early last week, a number undoubtedly too low after a devastating weekend that saw the destruction of two Lake County communities, Middletown and Cobb.

Fire and emergency officials said while there is only one confirmed fatality in the Valley Fire -- the most recent of a dozen state blazes -- there are others in the area that remain unaccounted for and possibly missing.

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"There are cars burned out on the highway. They are wrecked up against the side of banks," said Cal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott. "It's very clear that folks were waiting until the last minute, got scared, and then left."

As of early Monday morning, the Valley Fire had scorched some 61,000 acres since Saturday and was only 5 percent contained. The Butte Fire, which has been burning for more than five days, was 30 percent contained with more than 71,000 acres scarred by flames.

The governor said that the state has ample resources -- namely, cash -- to pay for the firefighting needs as they arise. Last week, he authorized the leasing of six private aircraft for additional help.

And Brown, as he's done so many times before, used Monday's briefing with top officials to sound the alarm over the impact of climate change on the state's fire vulnerability.

"This is not just this year," he said. "This is the future from now on.  It's going to get worse."