California Gov. Jerry Brown said all climate-change deniers are “definitely contributing” to the fatal wind-whipped wildfires that have pummeled northern and southern parts of the state over the past few days, as well as blazes “in the coming years.”
The Camp Fire in Butte County, north of Sacramento in California’s Gold Rush country, has claimed the lives of at least 29 people, according to Cal Fire incident stats this evening. The blaze, which started Thursday, has destroyed 6,453 residences and 260 commercial buildings, making it the most destructive fire in the state’s history as it ripped through Paradise, Calif., at a speed of 80 acres per minute, and was 25 percent contained at 111,000 acres. The cause is still under investigation.
California’s Office of Emergency Services estimated late this afternoon that about 100 people are still unaccounted for in the area of the Camp Fire.
The Woolsey Fire has torched 85,500 acres in Ventura and Los Angeles counties after starting on Thursday, and was only 15 percent contained. The blaze resulted in the evacuation of Malibu, has reached the Pacific Coast Highway and is threatening Topanga Canyon. There have been two fatalities and 177 structures destroyed.
Thousands of firefighters battling the blazes include assistance sent by seven states, which contributed dozens of engines apiece that are either on scene or en route.
Dry conditions are expected to feed red-flag fire conditions through the end of this week; state officials are expecting winds to subside mid-week but warn that fire conditions will be dangerous until adequate rain falls.
Brown asked the White House for a presidential disaster declaration this morning; the state is already receiving FEMA assistance.
“This is truly a tragedy that all Californians can understand and respond to and be very sympathetic. We’re going to do everything we can. We’re requesting a presidential declaration, funding coming from the federal government; of course, there will be efforts from the state government as well. It’s a time to pull together and work through this tragedy,” Brown said at a press conference late this afternoon outside Sacramento at Cal OES.
“This is not the ‘new normal.’ This is the ‘new abnormal.’ And this new abnormal will continue, certainly in the next 10 to 15 to 20 years,” he added. “And unfortunately the best science is telling us that dryness, warmth, drought, all those things, they’re going to intensify. Predictions by some scientists are we’ve already gone up one degree; I think we can expect a half a degree, which is catastrophic, over the next 10-12 years. So we have a real challenge here threatening our whole way of life.”
Brown added that “we’ve got to pull together — people have ideas, whether it’s forest management or how do we do our fire prevention, great, let’s hear about them.”
“And we’re going to have to invest more and more in adaptation. When we talk about things like the climate, and the warming climate, and we talk about words like ‘adaptation,’ that’s what we’re talking about. And it’s not millions, it’s billions, and tens, and probably hundreds of billions even in the span of a few years,” he said. “So we’ve got lots of work to do. It is a time of sadness, but also one to reflect on where we are and this resolve to pull together and do everything we can to help those in need — and to take the steps to minimize and mitigate the damage that’s so obvious.”
Asked if the state did enough to help save Paradise residents, who tried to flee the fast-moving blaze on narrow, congested roads, Brown replied that “we’re dealing with existential conditions that, once they take off, the certain amount of dryness in the vegetation and the soil and the air and the winds get up 50, 60 miles an hour — this is what happens.”
“And we have to keep understanding it better, but we’re in a new abnormal. And things like this will be part of our future… things like this and worse,” he warned. “That’s why it’s so important that we take steps to help communities, to do prevention, and then adaptation to the extent we can — some of that’s forest management, vegetation management, but even with all of that you have to have escape routes, and ways to identify people and to notify them. So we’re trying all that, but we’re getting caught up here in a changed world that not so many people were aware of or thinking about. So I’d say people are doing the best they can, but it’s not good enough and we’re going to have to do a lot more.”
President Trump tweeted early Saturday, “There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor. Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!”
California Professional Firefighters President Brian K. Rice called the tweet “ill-informed, ill-timed and demeaning to those who are suffering as well as the men and women on the front lines.” Harold Schaitberger, general president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, said the comments showed “a troubling lack of real comprehension about the disaster at hand and the dangerous job our fire fighters do” and were “reckless and insulting to the fire fighters and people being affected.”
Brown said in response that “the scientists and the engineers and the firefighters all tell us forest management is one element, it’s only one.”
“And we have to take care of the whole range of threats and conditions and actions that are part of our living with fire, living with fire threats. And while we do more forest management — both the federal government, which has more land than the state government, and by private people in the state — we have to all do more,” the governor continued. “But managing all the forests everywhere we can does not stop climate change. And those who deny that are definitely contributing to the tragedies that we’re now witnessing and will continue to witness in the coming years.”
“The chickens are coming home to roost; this is real here. And it’s not a question of pointing this way or that way, but pulling together in these tragic circumstances and thinking wisely and collaboratively — and that’s the spirit in which I’m approaching all that we need to do in response to these fires.”
Brown was asked if National Guard troops currently deployed at the southern border per the federal government’s request would be pulled away from border security support to help with the rash of wildfires.
The governor said that the troops would “go wherever they’re needed,” and “definitely fighting fires is a little higher priority than that business on the border.”