California’s Wildfires Continue To Rage Ahead Of Trump Visit


California’s devastating wildfires—which have burned through millions of acres as of Sunday—continue to rage ahead of a last-minute Monday visit from President Trump, who has recently doubled down on blaming forest mismanagement, not climate change, for the deadly blazes.

Key Facts

Nearly 17,000 firefighters are working to control 29 fires across California, CNN reported Monday.

Gov. Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti attribute the fires to climate change, which is increasingly supported by scientific consensus, but President Trump has rejected this amid a larger environmental deregulation push during his first term.

“It’s been very clear that years of drought” have contributed to California’s fires, Garcetti told CNN on Sunday, adding, “This is climate change and this is an administration that’s put its head in the sand.”

Trump scheduled a stop in California to receive a briefing on the fires after receiving criticism for weeks of silence on the crisis, according to the New York Times.

The president has repeatedly blamed poor forest management for the fires, and most recently pointed to this during a weekend rally in Nevada, while the White House noted that Trump ordered better forest management in a 2018 executive order.

According to the Associated Press, clearing forests of dry brush can be effective for managing wildfires, but it is costly and time-consuming, and Garcetti says drought and carbon emissions also create conditions for uncontrolled blazes.

Big Number

3 million. That’s how many acres have burned in California so far in 2020, according to CNN. This number doesn’t account for destroyed acreage in neighboring Oregon and Washington State, which are both battling blazes that are contributing to the West Coast’s hazy, dangerous air quality. 

Surprising Fact

Smoke from the West Coast’s fires have drifted as far east as Michigan, according to the National Weather Service.

Chief Critic

“As an historic figure, [Trump] is one of the most culpable men in America contributing to the suffering and death that is now occurring through climate-related tragedy,” former California Gov. Jerry Brown told the Times on Sunday. Brown stopped short, however, of specifically blaming Trump for the fires.

Crucial Quote

“Talk to a firefighter if you think that climate change isn’t real,” Garcetti told CNN on Sunday. “It seems like this administration are the last vestiges of the Flat Earth Society of this generation.”

Key Background

California has suffered devastating wildfires every year since 2017, the Times reported, after the wine country north of San Francisco suffered a devastating blaze. Scientists say that a warming planet, caused by the burning of fossil fuels that trap carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere, create ideal conditions for large-scale wildfires. Years of drought in California contributed to the deaths of millions of trees, in turn creating more tinder for fires to consume. The crisis comes amid the coronavirus pandemic, when people are already struggling, and officials worry about cascading health calamities from smoke inhalation, damaged drinking water systems and other problems. At least 35 people have died so far from the West Coast fires, with 24 of those occurring in California. Washington’s fires are attributed to hot, dry conditions, while the ones in Oregon are believed to have been sparked by downed power lines.

Further Reading

In Visiting a Charred California, Trump Confronts a Scientific Reality He Denies (New York Times)

Largest Wildfire In California History Now Up To 877,477 Acres Burned, 28% Contained (Forbes)

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