Trump Downplays Climate Change in California Wildfire Visit

President Donald Trump speaks to reporters as he arrives at Sacramento McClellan Airport, in McClellan Park, Calif., Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, for a briefing on wildfires. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — Weeks after assigning blame for California’s disastrous wildfire season on poor leadership and not climate change, President Donald Trump on Monday met with state officials regarding the siege gripping the entire West Coast. 

After landing in smoky Sacramento, where air quality levels have ranged between unhealthy and hazardous for nearly a month, Trump repeated to reporters his belief that the deadly wildfires gripping the state could be prevented or diminished, if only the state’s Democratic leaders would listen. He claimed Europe has figured out how to avoid catastrophic blazes and pushed back on the argument made by the governors of California, Oregon and Washington state that fighting climate change is the best wildfire prevention tool going forward.

“They have to do forest management,” Trump said on the tarmac of the former McClellan Air Force Base. “Other places it doesn’t happen much, where they manage their forests; it should happen here.”

Trump’s visit comes days after Governor Gavin Newsom proclaimed California’s recent run of record-breaking heat, massive wildfires and hazardous air were the result of a “climate damn emergency.”

Asked about the role climate change plays in the wildfire siege and whether more should be done to reduce emissions, Trump responded that he doubts the United States could make a real global impact in the first place. The president, who pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement, questioned whether countries like Russia and China would follow suit even if he made climate change a top priority.  

California is fighting dozens of major wildfires that have already this summer burned an area larger than the state of Connecticut and killed at least 22 people.

At over 755,000 acres, the August Complex in Northern California has claimed the mantle as the largest in state history. Burning mostly through federal land in counties like Tehama, Trinity and Glenn, the fire is 30% contained.

To the northeast, the deadliest and most destructive incident of the season so far is the North Complex. Also burning in a national forest, the complex has killed 14 people and destroyed 2,000 structures in Plumas, Yuba and Butte counties.

The North Complex is already the ninth largest wildfire in California’s recorded history, which dates back to 1932. According to the U.S. Forest Service, which is in charge of the incident, favorable weather conditions over the weekend allowed crews to increase containment to 38%.

In the southern part of the state, two wildfires continue to threaten homes in the foothills surrounding Fresno and Los Angeles.

Sparked on Sept. 5 in the Sierra National Forest, the Creek Fire is now the 16th largest wildfire in state history at 212,000 acres. Along with helicopter rescues by the California National Guard, the Creek Fire has produced massive plumes visible by passengers on commercial airliners and NASA satellites. The fire is burning through massive portions of drought-riddled forest and is 10% contained.

Farther south in Los Angeles County, the Bobcat Fire has grown to 36,000 acres and was just 6% contained as of Monday. 

The fire is burning through chaparral brush and tall grass in areas with little fire history, and evacuation warnings remain in place for the foothill communities of Pasadena, Monrovia, Altadena and Duarte. Warm, dry conditions are expected to continue Monday, and firefighters expect the corresponding low humidity could cause increased fire behavior. 

California has seen over 6,000 wildfires in 2020, with many of the largest blazes sparked by freak thunderstorms that produced dry lightning. In addition, five of the state’s top 20 largest wildfires are currently still burning.

While Trump contends that removing downed trees, raking leaves and digging firebreaks could be the answer to the state’s disastrous blazes, state officials continue to focus on global warming.

During Monday’s briefing, Newsom presented Trump with a packet of charts and bar graphs showing a link between wildfire sizes and increasing average temperatures. The info also highlights the fact that the federal government owns 57% of California’s forest land.

Newsom, who wore a mask during the briefing, added that over 160 million trees died during the state’s historic drought during the 2010s and asked the president to “respect” their differing viewpoints on wildfires and climate change.  

“Something’s happened to the plumbing of the world,” Newsom said. “Climate change is real and exacerbating this.” 

Later in the briefing, Trump interjected it would “start getting cooler” and contradicted the globally accepted advice guiding Newsom’s conclusions  

“Just watch. I don’t think science knows actually,” said the unmasked president. 

Wildfires are ripping through the entire West Coast, including in Oregon where infernos have burned through whole communities. Over 1.6 million acres have burned over the last week alone in Oregon and Washington state combined, causing the states’ governors to echo Newsom.

“Our state has been pushed to its limits,” said Oregon Governor Kate Brown Monday, noting 10 people have died due to wildfires.

Meanwhile Washington state Governor Jay Inslee, who based his recent presidential bid on environmental policy, said the Evergreen State has been transformed into a “tinderbox.”

“These are not just wildfires. These are climate fires,” Inslee claimed.

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