California wildfires more devastating due to climate change

Devastating wildfires in California have claimed 79 lives so far, making it the deadliest American wildfire in a century.

Since it broke out on November 8, 2018 the “Camp Fire” in Northern California has destroyed almost 13,000 homes, with many hundreds of people still missing. A separate blaze in Southern California, called the “Woolsey Fire,” has destroyed around 370 homes and forced 200,000 people to evacuate.

Two weeks after the outbreak of this deadliest wildfire in California’s history, firefighters are still fighting to extinguish the “Camp Fire,” with containment at 75%. Fire officials warned they may not have it fully controlled by the end of the month.

Californian governor Jerry Brown requested a major disaster declaration for California, which Trump has approved. This entitles victims to crisis counseling, legal aid, housing and unemployment help. Currently, numerous victims have become sick due to the outbreak of the “norovirus” at shelters. Additionally, air quality in Northern California has been rated as the world’s worst.

Trump: Climate Change not the Cause

US president Donald Trump visited California last Sunday, and while speaking to reporters, he repeatedly referred to the devastated town of Paradise as “Pleasure”. He stated that the wildfires had not changed his view on climate change. “I have a strong opinion,” Mr Trump told journalists. “I want great climate and we’re going to have that and we’re going to have forests that are very safe.”

Trump blames the wildfires on poor forest management. Referring to a conversation with Finnish president Sauli Niinistö, Trump claimed wildfires were not a problem in Finland because the Finns “spend a lot of time on raking” leaves and “cleaning and doing things”. However, Ninistö clarified that he had mentioned to Trump “that Finland is a land covered by forests and we also have a good monitoring system and network,” but that he never discussed with the US president raking in relation to wildfires.  

California Professional Firefighters stated that it was “dangerously wrong” of Trump to make bad forest management responsible for the wildfires. Some firefighters additionally pointed out that the fires had started in open scrub or grassland, rather than in forests.

Experts: Climate Change Contributed to Destructive Wildfires

Los Angeles fire chief Daryl Osby stated that climate change was “undeniably a reason” the Californian wildfires were increasingly devastating and destructive. According to the California Fire Service, almost all of the worst fires in the region have taken place in the past 10 years. Osby went on to explain: “The fact of the matter is if you look at the state of California, climate challenge is happening state-wide […] it is going to be here for the foreseeable future.”

Moreover, climate change has expanded the “fire season” across the US, leading to resource issues with firefighters. “It did have an effect on our strategy,” Osby said. “Typically, we would rely on our partners from the north to come. But they are fighting a major fire up there […] What really hampered our ability to combat this fire is we didn’t have enough resources for containment,” he said. “Normally we would do all three things simultaneously but now we have to do it in sequential order. Lives are first.” With support now coming from Arizona, Utah, Nevada and Washington, Osby said that firefighters would be able to finally stop the flames from spreading further.

A landmark report on global warming by the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), published exactly a month before the outbreak of the wildfires in California, warned that unprecedented changes are urgently needed to save the planet from a climate catastrophe. The events in California are a gruesome reminder that immediate action is needed to combat climate change.

Image Credit: AP / N. Berger

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