On Monday, President Donald Trump was branded a “climate arsonist” by presidential rival Joe Biden, for Trump’s failure to acknowledge the role global warming played in deadly wildfires sweeping across western United States, while Trump on the other hand put the blame on lax forest management and declared, “I don’t think science knows”.
Since August, dozens of conflagrations have raged with unprecedented scope across more than 4 million acres (1.6 million hectares), leaving several small towns in smouldering ruins, destroying thousands of homes and killing at least 35 people in Oregon, California and Washington state.
Skies are bathed in eerie tones of orange and sepia as fires have polluted airs of the affected regions with dangerously high levels of smoke and soot, adding another public health crisis to be handled by health authorities, apart from ongoing chaos caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Oregon is the latest flashpoint in a larger summer outbreak of fires that were accompanied by catastrophic lightning storms, record-breaking searing heat waves and extremely windy conditions. To date, ten deaths have been reported there during the past week.
This week weary firefighters were able to gain ground in efforts to outflank blazes that had burned largely unchecked last week, as incendiary conditions gave way over the weekend to cooler, moister weather and calmer winds.
The battle is far from over according to fire managers. Though much needed rainfall from thunderstorms later this week has been forecasted by local weather authorities, more lightning is also expected as well. Authorities are also bracing for an increase in the death toll.
Amidst chaotic evacuations last week, emergency and disaster teams are working against the clock to scour the ruins of burnt homes for signs of survivors. Oregon authorities are yet to locate 22 people reported missing in the fires.
Since mid-August, at least two dozen people have perished in California wildfires, and in Washington state one fatality has been confirmed.
The Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, spoke out from his home state of Delaware, on the threat of increasingly frequent weather extremes that scientists have pointed to as evidence that climate change is supercharging the fires. Biden has received strong criticism from the Republicans for not visiting the disaster areas.
Though trailing Biden in national polls ahead of the Nov. 3 election, Trump visited California and met with firefighters and officials after the opposing Democrats blasted the current Republican president for his silence on the wildfires.
When asked by a reporter if climate change was a factor behind the fires, Trump answered “I think this is more of a management situation”. Trump asserted that other countries “don’t have this problem”, though he did not mention large wildfires that have raged elsewhere around the world from southern Europe to Australia and Siberia in recent years.
“They have more explosive trees, meaning they catch fire much easier,” he said. “But they don’t have problems like this.”
The president and his administration say fuel-choked forests and scrub need to be thinned, more firebreaks need to be cut and flammable debris cleared from forest floors, thus pinning the blame for large wildfires on state officials.
While acknowledging that more needs to be done to improve forest management, California governor Gavin Newsom reminded the President of the fact that 57 percent of forest land in California is under federal ownership.
Climate change would take more time and require international cooperation that the President said was lacking. However, he asserted improved forest management was something that could be tackled quickly.
After landing in McLellan Park, California, Trump said “When you get into climate change, well is India going to change its ways? And is China going to change its ways? And Russia? Is Russia going to change its ways?”
15th September 2020 20:00