Burned down houses, wrecked cars, charred nature: where the fires raged in the western United States, little is left. In California alone, 24 people have died, Governor Gavin Newsom said Monday. Eleven others died in Oregon and Washington, according to US media. Tens of thousands are on the run. The historic fires are fueling fears of the consequences of climate change. However, US President Donald Trump sees the reasons elsewhere.
On a visit to California, the Republican criticized what he saw as poor forest management, which he had cited as the reason for the extent of the wildfires in recent years. He downplayed the threat of climate change at a meeting with emergency services and representatives of the Newsom government. “It’s going to get cooler, just watch,” Trump told California Secretary Wade Crowfoot.
Test now for free!
Crowfoot replied, “I wish science would agree with you.” Trump replied, “Well, I don’t think science really knows.” Crowfoot had previously warned that climate change must be recognized and collaborated with science.
[Mit dem Newsletter „Twenty/Twenty“ begleiten unsere US-Experten Sie jeden Donnerstag auf dem Weg zur Präsidentschaftswahl. Hier geht es zur kostenlosen Anmeldung: tagesspiegel.de/twentytwenty.]
Scientists believe the climate crisis is exacerbating extreme weather events such as drought and heat, which could contribute to more violent wildfires. Trump has expressed his skepticism several times in the past about whether climate change exists at all and, if so, whether it is caused by humans. His government has watered down many environmental protection regulations, including a strong commitment to coal and oil extraction. However, Trump makes fun of wind turbines.
Rather than basing his policies on scientific knowledge, Trump operates like a “ climate arsonist, ” said Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden in Wilmington, Delaware. Although the “West is literally on fire,” Trump continues to deny climate change.
The governors of the affected states are sounding the alarm. Newsom stressed that climate change is real. “This is a wake-up call that we must do everything we can to combat climate change,” Oregon Governor Kate Brown said on CBS TV on Sunday. Washington Governor Jay Inslee complained to ABC broadcaster that “while the entire west coast of the United States is on fire,” the president denies that these are not just wildfires, but “climate fires.”
The big cities are also feeling the effects
More than 30,000 firefighters and helpers are on duty to control the flames. According to authorities, about 19,000 square kilometers of land has already been charred, roughly equivalent to the area of Rhineland-Palatinate. In Oregon, about 4,000 square miles of forest burned down – twice as much as in an average year. The flames threaten not only property, but also human health.
“Our region currently has the worst air quality in the world,” Sarah Present, the health officer for Clackamas County, southeast of the city of Portland, Oregon, said at a news conference on Sunday (local time). “Not only is it unhealthy, it’s also in the dangerous area.”
For days, smoke has darkened vision in parts of the western United States, covering the sky, and sometimes turning it reddish. Photos look like they have been edited with a filter.
People reported ash flakes. On Monday, the US weather agency issued warnings for several areas on the West Coast. Strong winds and high temperatures could further fuel the flames, he said. A little more moist air over the next few days could help keep the fire under control.
School burned down in California Photo: AFP / Josh Edelson
In Oregon, flames almost completely destroyed the town of Detroit, as CNN reported. There were only about twenty buildings left there. Several firefighters in the village have lost their own homes and are now fighting to protect the remaining houses. Local resident Elizabeth Smith told the broadcaster that her home had been completely destroyed. “Looks like a bomb went off.”
In California, the wildfire season, likely to last for weeks, is already considered the worst season on record. What you see there are events that you can clearly say climate change has made them worse, said climate expert Zeke Hausfather of the Los Angeles Times Breakthrough Institute think tank. “People who’ve lived in California for 30 or 40 years say it’s unprecedented, it’s never been this hot, it’s never been smoky in all the years I’ve lived here.”
Rural and wooded areas are particularly hard hit in the three states. But millions of people in major cities on the west coast – including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Portland – are also feeling the effects. There the smoke also deteriorates the air quality dramatically. According to information from the IQAir website, the four American metropolises are among the top ten cities with the most serious air pollution in the world. Portland comes first. (dpa)