President Donald Trump interrupted a Western campaign swing Monday by flying to California to review wildfire damage – and renew his argument with state and local officials about what he says is the main cause of the fires that claimed the lives of at least 35 people this month.
Though government officials and scientists identified climate change as the primary culprit behind the intense wildfires, Trump insisted during a briefing in Northern California that “forest management” is more to blame.
“When trees fall down after a short period of time, they become very dry – really like a matchstick … and they can explode,” Trump said as he and others breathed in the smoky, hazy air near Sacramento.
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Officials working on the wildfires in California, Oregon and Washington state said the problem will get worse if Trump continues to ignore the impact of climate change.
During a briefing with Trump, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, told him forest management is an issue, but “climate change is real, and that is exacerbating this.”
“Please respect, and I know you do, the difference of opinion out here as it relates to this fundamental issue … of climate change,” Newsom said.
When Wade Crowfoot, California secretary for natural resources – identified climate change as the primary cause of the wildfires, Trump interrupted: “It’ll start getting cooler – you just watch.”
“I wish science agreed with you,” Crowfoot told the president.
Trump responded, “I don’t think science knows, actually.”
‘I could never have envisioned this’: At least 35 dead as nearly 100 wildfires rage across 12 Western states
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In a campaign speech Monday, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said Trump’s refusal to address climate change threatens to bring more wildfires, floods and other environmental calamities.
“If you give a climate arsonist four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised if we have more of America ablaze?” Biden said during a climate change speech. “If you give a climate denier four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised when more of America is underwater?”
As smoke obscured the view of mountains in Northern California, Trump received his briefing on wildfire damage at McClellan Park, a former Air Force Base that’s home to the state’s Office of Emergency Services. Trump participated in a ceremony recognizing the work of the California National Guard.
Over the past three weeks, deadly wildfires have destroyed more than 5 million acres in California, Oregon and Washington and forced thousands from their homes.
Forest management, Trump’s preferred solution, can range from clearing out overgrown vegetation – which can serve as kindling – to cutting pathways and roads through the woods to give firefighters easier access.
Trump has threatened to withhold federal aid from California and other states if they do not change forest management policies.
At a rally in Pennsylvania last month, Trump said, “You gotta clean your floors, you gotta clean your forests – there are many, many years of leaves and broken trees and they’re like, like, so flammable, you touch them and it goes up.”
Trump took a more tactful tone at the start of his visit Monday, saying he gets along with Newsom.
“He does agree with me on forest management,” Trump said. “It’s a very important subject. You drop a cigarette on it, you come back an hour later and you have a forest fire.”
Asked why he waited so long to visit, Trump told a reporter, “That’s a nasty question. I got a call from your governor immediately. On that call, I declared it a national emergency. That’s a nasty question.”
Trump, who spent the weekend campaigning for reelection in Nevada, resumes his Western swing after the California stop. He is scheduled to fly to Phoenix for a roundtable discussion with Latino voters.
Trump is scheduled to return to the White House late Monday.
The wildfire review came a day after officials in Nevada criticized Trump for holding a mass political rally indoors, risking the spread of COVID-19.
“At a time when Nevada is focused on getting our economy back on track and protecting public health, the president’s actions this weekend are shameful, dangerous and irresponsible,” Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak said.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Scientists and officials say climate change causes wildfires; Trump says ‘forest management’ is to blame
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