Sept. 14 (UPI) — President Donald Trump blamed forest management for the raging West Coast wildfires during a visit to California on Monday, while Gov. Gavin Newsom and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden cited climate change as a primary factor.
Trump traveled to Sacramento to receive a briefing on the fires, which have killed at least 35 people, burned 4.6 million acres in 10 states, forced the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of residents and darkened skies from Vancouver, Canada, to Tijuana, Mexico.
“It’s a big problem and it will get solved. We say God bless you to those who were killed in this serious fire. We are showing and give support to the people of California,” he said.
During the two-hour visit, Trump participated in a ceremony recognizing the California National Guard and met with Newsom, who stressed the impact of climate change while speaking alongside the president.
“We’ve known each other too long and the working relationship I value,” Newsom said of Trump. “We feel very strongly the hots are getting hotter, the dries are getting dyer. Something has happened to the plumbing of the world and we come from a perspective, humbly, that we assert the science that climate change is real. Please respect the difference of opinion out here with respect to the fundamental issue of climate change.”
Trump later interjected while another speaker was addressing the event to question the long-term effects of climate change.
“It will start getting cooler,” he said. “Just watch. I don’t think science knows actually.”
The president had remained quiet on the wildfires, but on a visit to Nevada on Saturday he blamed poor forest management for the blazes, which are shaping up to be the worst wildfires in American history.
“Please remember the words, very simple, forest management,” he said. “Please remember. It’s about forest management.”
On Monday, he reiterated the stance, stating that fallen trees and dry leaves serve as “fuel for the fires.”
“You go to many different countries. I was talking to the head of a foreign country and they said, ‘We consider ourselves a forest nation. We have trees that are far more explosive than they have in California and we don’t have that problem,'” Trump said.
That stance has drawn criticism from Western state officials who contend Trump is ignoring the role climate change is playing in the conflagrations.
“This is climate change, and this is an administration that’s put its head in the sand, while we have Democratic and Republican mayors across the country stepping up to do their part,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said on CNN’s State of the Union.
Biden, the Democratic nominee to face Trump in November’s election, also criticized the president’s focus on forest management over climate change.
“The West is literally on fire and he blames the people whose homes and communities are burning,” he said. “He says, quote, ‘You’ve gotta clean your floors, you gotta clean your forest.'”
The former vice president also warned of the possibility of Trump continuing his climate stances if re-elected in November.
“Donald Trump’s climate denial may not have caused these fires and record floods and record hurricanes, but if he gets a second term these hellish events will continue to become more common, more devastating and more deadly,” Biden said.
Meanwhile, the death toll in California rose to at least 24 late Sunday, state officials said, when two more victims were confirmed in the 264,000-acre North Complex fire near Chico, Calif.
Butte County, Calif., Sheriff Kory Honea said officials were able to identify only one of the victims — a 58-year-old man from Berry Creek, Calif. Seven people were still missing in the county, down from 13 reported Saturday, he said.
At least 10 people have died in Oregon as well as a 1-year-old in Washington state.
Efforts to combat the 87 large fires across the West was expected to be hampered Monday by strong, gusty winds in northern California and southeast Oregon, while dense smoke was expected to continue to impact much of the western United States, forecasters said.
In a Monday morning update, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, said progress was made overnight against the North Complex Fire in some of the hardest-hit areas, including Butte County.
“A lot of good work has been completed in the last few days, and we’re going to continue to strive to connect all the dots and get this mopped up as soon as possible,” said Cal Fire Night Operation Chief Monty Smith. Crews planned to finish more lines in the west zone Monday, hoping to cut off the fire spread.
The USDA Forest Service said despite the overall increase of approximately 2,900 acres, firefighters had managed to increase containment overnight to 38%.
In Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown said Monday that the state “has been pushed to its limits” by wildfires and that she mourns for the lives lost to the fire.
“I am at a loss for words over these deaths,” she said.
She told reporters Monday that firefighting teams are optimistic that the forecast cooler weather in this week “will be of tremendous help.
The governor also announced that she will be vetoing several line-item appropriations to preserve more than $65 million in funding to respond to the wildfire effort and she thanked crews from all over the country and Canada who have agreed to help battle the blazes or send needed resources.