On the west coast, the heads of state and government are calling for “all the help we can get”.
The west coast forest fires turned into an almost inevitable crisis across the country on Tuesday. At least 27 people died in three states, fires and evacuations began in Idaho, milky smoke clouded the skies over Michigan, and haze reached as far as New York City.
In the states where the fires burn worst – with more than five million acres so far charred in Oregon, California and Washington state –
The Bay Area set another record for consecutive hazardous air warnings for four weeks under a blanket of suffocating smoke. Oregon State Police set up a mobile morgue as teams searched burned buildings for survivors and dead. Alaska Airlines suspended flights from Portland, Oregon, and Spokane, Washington, citing “thick smoke and haze”. And Oregon Governor Kate Brown requested a disaster statement from the president and said late Monday, “To fight fires of this magnitude, we need all the help we can get.”
California Governor Gavin Newsom met with President Trump on Monday at McClellan Park, near Sacramento, thanking him for federal help and agreeing that forest management could be better – noting that, by comparison, only 3 percent of the land under state control in California is 57 percent under federal control. The governors of all three states stressed that climate change had made fires more dangerous, dried forests as the heat rose, and prepared them for burning, a science the president denied on Monday.
“The rules for fighting forest fires are changing because our climate is changing,” Washington Governor Jay Inslee wrote in an open letter Monday. “There is no fire fighting plan on this planet that is of any use to anyone if they don’t even recognize the role of climate change.”
Addressing Mr Trump directly, he wrote, “I hope you have had an insightful trip to the West Coast, where your refusal to address climate change – and your active steps to allow even more carbon pollution – will accelerate devastating forest fires like you see today. ”
Firefighters continued trying to contain the dozen fires Tuesday morning. In California, the August Complex fire, which burned more than 750,000 acres northwest of Sacramento, was about 30 percent contained, and the Creek fire northeast of Fresno, which burned more than 200,000 acres, was about 16 percent contained .
In Oregon, tens of thousands of people were still under evacuation orders, and the Beachie Creek fire, east of Salem, burned nearly 200,000 acres.
With dozens of fires burning through millions of acres in Oregon and California, weather forecasters are watching how wind and humidity could affect efforts to fight them. While strong gusts of wind are still possible, forecasters said regions with some of the most devastating fires would benefit from gentler winds on Tuesday.
Nearly three dozen fires have set more than 950,000 acres on fire in Oregon. In California, the North Complex fire was 39 percent contained by more than 264,000 acres, while the August Complex fire raged to 755,000 acres, only 30 percent of which was contained.
The wind is expected to ease on Tuesday, but smoke and haze will continue to cover the skies over Northern California, the National Weather Service said. Temperatures fluctuate between the low 70s to the mid 80s in the valley and in the North Complex fire region.
“There won’t be much wind over this burn area today,” said Jim Mathews, a National Weather Service meteorologist. “I don’t think there would be any adverse conditions.”
Humidity will be down to the low 20s in your teens, he said.
“We should see improvement,” added Mathews. “More sunshine is being filtered through the smoke, and that’s because the southwest current is starting to stir the atmosphere. However, air quality is still forecast to be unhealthy. “
In Oregon, east of the Cascades, a “red flag” of dangerous fire conditions remained in effect and the air was poorly humid. But most of the major fires in the state burn west of the mountains, and the firefighters fighting them were expected to be spared the higher winds.
“The strongest winds I have west of the Cascades today are generally gusts of about 15 mph,” said Charles Smith, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oregon.
But east of the Cascades there will be higher winds and low humidity, making the conditions “more dangerous than usual,” said Mr Smith. “If there are new fires, they have a problem with their first attack,” he added, referring to the fire fighting.
Idaho is fighting multiple fires, one of which is devouring approximately 70,000 acres.
In Idaho, hundreds of firefighters continue to fight more than a dozen fires that burn in steep, dry forests and scrublands.
The largest fire, the Woodhead Fire, grew to nearly 70,000 acres on Monday, forcing the evacuation of campers and residents in the sparsely populated patchwork of grasslands and national forest near the Oregon border.
None of the state’s fires are as large as the megafires that are devastating the west coast, but with scarce resources and forecasts that continue to call for dry weather, local fire teams have been keeping an eye on the flames.
Several counties in the state are shrouded in smoke from coastal fires, prompting the Idaho Environmental Quality Department to issue unhealthy air warnings for much of the state.
When Trump again rejects science, Biden calls him a “climate arsonist”.
With forest fires in the west, climate change was at the center of the White House race on Monday when former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. called President Trump a “climate arsonist,” while the president said, “I don’t believe science knows what is actually happening.
A day of dueling revealed the stark differences between the two candidates, an incumbent president who has long despised climate change as a joke and rolled back environmental regulations, and a challenger who has called for an aggressive campaign to curb greenhouse gases, which increasingly advocates it Extreme weather is held responsible.
Mr Trump flew into California after weeks of public silence over the flames that displaced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes, wiped out communities and forests, burned millions of acres, smoked the region and killed at least 27 people. But even when faced with the Governor of California and other state officials, the president insisted that the crisis be attributed solely to poor forest management and not climate change.
For his part, Mr Biden attacked Mr Trump’s report on the climate, claiming that the president’s inaction and denial had resulted in the destruction, referring not only to the current emergency on the west coast but also to floods in the Midwest and hurricanes along the Gulf coast . In an open-air speech at a museum in Wilmington, Delaware, the Democratic presidential candidate attempted to label Trump’s second term as a threat to the nation’s suburbs by sparking a presidential attack on him.
“If we have another four years of Trump’s climate denial, how many suburbs will be burned in forest fires?” Mr. Biden asked. “How many suburbs will have been flooded? How many suburbs will have been blown away in super storms? If you give a climate arsonist four more years in the White House, why should anyone wonder if more of America is on fire? “
The North Complex Fire pierced the tiny California mountain community of Lake Madrone last week, reducing the pine-lined shore that was speckled with huts and frequented by bears and otters to black wood and ash.
The community had spent years cleaning up fire breaks and clearing forest debris to keep them safe from wildfire. But roaring winds, high temperatures, and a firestorm that raced nearly 20 miles in just a few days destroyed its defenses late last week, destroying about half of its 130 homes.
“We hoped we’d done enough,” said Scott Owen, a resident who lived by the lake. “After seeing the fire, I don’t think you can do enough. This fire moved like no one before. “
On Monday evening, Butte County’s Sheriff Kory Honea announced another victim in the fire, which killed at least 15 people. He said that family members of some of the deceased told MPs the people had packed their bags and wanted to evacuate, but changed their minds based on false information that the fire was 50 percent contained.
Mr. Owen’s entire neighborhood was burned to the ground. A neighbor barely escaped, he said, protecting himself from the flames in a stream. On Monday, neighbors were still trying to hold everyone accountable in hopes that authorities would not have to search the rubble with corpse dogs.
Although the flames have moved north, the residents of Lake Madrone have not yet been able to return. Mr Owen, who has owned a lake house for decades, said he wasn’t sure he would rebuild it.
“I just think things have changed and we will have more fires,” he said. “This is a record year – who knows where we are going from here.”
The coverage was contributed by Peter Baker, Lisa Friedman, Christine Hauser, Thomas Kaplan, Dave Philipps and Alan Yuhas.