The deadly forest fires in the US west coast states that the climate change debate is “over,”
“Just come to the state of California. See it with your own eyes,” he told reporters from a charred mountainside.
Fires have raged in California, Oregon and Washington for three weeks.
Fanned by flames in record-breaking heat, the flames have burned millions of acres, destroyed thousands of homes and killed at least 25 people.
On Friday, Oregon Governor Kate Brown said dozens were missing in her state alone.
According to the National Interagency Fire Center, the fires have burned a total of 4.5 acres in recent weeks – an area larger than Connecticut and slightly smaller than Wales.
What did Newsom say?
The governor, a Democrat, spoke Friday as he inspected the damage from the North Complex Fire near Oroville, Northern California.
“The climate change debate is over,” Newsom told reporters. “This is a climate-damaging emergency. This is real and it is happening.”
He acknowledged deficiencies in forest management over the past few decades but added, “That’s a point, but it’s not the point.”
Highlighting states’ efforts to combat climate change, he said the record heatwaves and unprecedented fires were the problems scientists have long predicted.
President Donald Trump, a climate skeptic, has highlighted poor fire safety measures as the main cause of the recent flames.
“You have to clean your forests – there have been leaves and broken trees for many, many years and they’re … so flammable,” he said at a rally last month.
The North Complex Fire, which has been burning since August 18th, is among the deadliest in history. So far ten bodies have been found and another 16 people are missing.
At least 20 people have died in fires in California since August 15. Tens of thousands of people are on evacuation orders as 14,800 firefighters continue to fight 28 major fires in the state.
While natural factors like high winds contributed to the spread of these massive fires, the underlying warming of the climate from human activity makes these conflagrations larger and more explosive.
Nine of the ten warmest years in the world have passed since 2005, and the UN warned this week that the five years from 2016 to this year will most likely be the hottest period on record. Both Oregon and California have warmed more than 1 ° C since 1900.
Because of the persistent heat, six of California’s 20 largest fires occurred this year. In Oregon, the flood last week burned nearly double the average annual casualty.
In California, a prolonged drought has killed millions of trees over the past decade, making them a powerful fuel for the fires. Mountainous areas, which are usually cooler and wetter, dry out faster in summer, increasing potential fuel pollution.
Climate researchers had predicted that western forest fires would increase in size, scope and impact – but their predictions are being implemented faster than expected.
- A really simple guide to climate change
What’s happening outside of California?
In Oregon, where firefighters are fighting 16 large flames, 40,000 people must be evacuated.
The fires killed four people, but officials warn the deaths could be much higher.
Governor Kate Brown on Friday pleaded with households to stay out of the fire zones despite reports of looting.
“Let me assure you that the Oregon National Guard and Oregon State Police are monitoring the situation and preventing looting,” she said.
Beatriz Gomez Bolanos, 41, told Reuters news agency about her family’s frightening pursuit of safety with fires on both sides of their car. She told her four children to close their eyes as they escaped.
“Everything is gone. We have to start all over again, but we’re alive,” she told the news agency.
At least one fire in Oregon – the Almeda fire, one of the most devastating in the state – is being treated as an alleged arson.
Smoke pollution from the forest fires has left Oregon’s largest city, Portland, with the worst air quality in the world, followed by San Francisco and Seattle, according to IQAir.com.
Firefighters are fighting 15 major fires in Washington state. A one-year-old boy died earlier this week when his family tried to escape a fire. His parents remain in critical condition.
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