President Donald Trump questioned whether climate change was responsible for the devastating wildfires that have swept across the West Coast, instead using a visit to California to blame the blazes on poor forest management.
Meeting with state officials on Monday in California, parts of which have been razed by the wildfires, Mr Trump suggested that the trend of rising temperatures would soon reverse and dismissed scientists who have said there is a link between climate change and the blazes.
“It will start getting cooler — just you watch,” Mr Trump said in a briefing with California state officials, including the state’s Democratic governor Gavin Newsom.
A state official responded by saying he “wish[ed] science agreed” with the president, prompting Mr Trump to retort: “I don’t think science knows, actually.”
At least 26 people have died from the blazes, which have swept up the coast from California to Oregon and Washington, forcing hundreds of thousands of residents to flee their homes, many of which have succumbed to the flames.
Experts have warned forecasts for drier conditions along with higher winds could aggravate attempts by firefighters to bring the blazes under control.
Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential candidate, attempted to use the wildfires to draw attention to what he said was Mr Trump’s disregard for science and described the president as a “climate arsonist”.
In a speech in Wilmington, Delaware, on Monday, Mr Biden said that if the president were re-elected then the US ran the risk of more wildfires in the future. “If we have four more years of Trump’s climate denial, how many suburbs will be burned in wildfires?” Mr Biden asked.
He added: “How many suburban neighbourhoods will have been flooded out? How many suburbs will have been blown away in superstorms? 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?”
Using language that echoed the attacks he has made on Mr Trump’s handling of the pandemic, Mr Biden said that while the president might not be directly to blame for the wildfires, his disdain for climate change science had left the country poorly prepared to deal with them.
He said: “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.”
On Monday, Mr Trump was in California’s McClellan Park, which has been ravaged by the fires. Shortly after arriving, the president repeated his assertion that poor forest management by state and local officials was to blame for the blazes.
“When trees fall down after a short period of time — about 18 months — they become very dry. They become really like a matchstick,” Mr Trump said. “They just explode. They can explode. Also leaves. When you have years of leaves, dried leaves on the ground, it just sets it up. It’s really a fuel for a fire.”
While Mr Trump has frequently clashed with the country’s top Democratic governors, he has had a more cordial relationship with Mr Newsom, who has worked with the administration, most recently on Covid-19 — despite being a favourite Twitter target for the President.
Mr Newsom, who is seen as a future Democratic presidential contender, on Monday said he valued his “working relationship” with Mr Trump but stressed that they had a “difference of opinion” on climate change.
“We feel very strongly the hots are getting hotter, the dries are getting dryer,” Mr Newsom said, referring to California state officials.
“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.”
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