SACRAMENTO — A desire to live near nature is embedded in California’s ethos, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday as he explained why he doesn’t want to block home building near forested areas at high risk for wildfires.

“There’s something that is truly Californian about the wilderness and the wild and pioneering spirit,” Newsom said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I’m not advocating for no (building).”

Newsom on Friday released a report outlining the challenges of California’s growing wildfire threat that suggested local government “de-emphasize” building in high-risk areas around forests. But he told the AP it was a loose suggestion aimed at starting a debate about how Californians can build smarter and closer to urban centers and economic hubs.

More than 2.7 million Californians live in areas state fire officials say are at a very high hazard for wildfires, according to an AP analysis of census data and state fire maps. Nearly 180 cities and towns are in those very high hazard areas.

The recently retired head of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Ken Pimlott, said last year that government should consider blocking construction in high-risk areas, given the devastating loss of property and lives.

But Newsom said he’s never seen a realistic proposal for how to do it.

“I’ve never seen a deep analysis,” he said. “And I think one has to be cautious about that.”

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