The wildfires sweeping the West Coast assumed center stage on Monday in the U.S. election campaign, with President Trump visiting California after blaming the blazes on poor forest management and his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, stressing the role of climate change in stoking the fires.
The Republican president, seeking re-election on Nov. 3, met with firefighters and emergency officials in Northern California. Democrats have blasted Trump for remaining mostly silent about the largest wildfires in state history, except for his efforts to blame the blazes on failures by the state government.
Biden, slammed by Republicans for not visiting disaster areas, spoke from his home state of Delaware on the threat of extreme weather that climate scientists have said is supercharging fires.
“I think this is more of a management situation,” Trump said, when asked by a reporter if climate change was a factor behind the fires, claiming that many other countries are not facing a similar problem. “They don’t have problems like this. They have very explosive trees, but they don’t have problems like this.”
He said forest management changes were something that could be tackled quickly.
“When you get into climate change, well is India going to change its ways? And is China going to change its ways? And Russia? Is Russia going to change its ways. So, you have a lot of countries that are going to have change because they make up … a big preponderance of the pollution,” he said after landing in McClellan Park outside Sacramento.
Trump has pulled the United States out of the Paris accord that laid out an international approach to climate change while Biden says climate change is on his list of major crises facing the United States.
Wildfires across Oregon, California and Washington state have destroyed thousands of homes and a half dozen small towns since August, scorching more than 4 million acres and killing more than two dozen people.
Drone footage showed hundreds of homes reduced to ashes in the southern Oregon communities of Phoenix and Talent, around 5 miles south of Medford, after a wind-driven firestorm raced north, blowing embers into trailer parks and residential subdivisions.
Search-and-rescue teams went through gutted homes in more than half a dozen Oregon communities looking for human remains after state officials said they expected “mass casualty incidents.”
Trump has authorized federal disaster aid for both California and Oregon.
Trump’s administration has waged a series of legal battles with Democratic-run California, the most populous U.S. state, on a variety of issues including immigration and environmental policy. The state for its part has sued his administration more than 100 times. Trump lost badly in California in the 2016 election and is expected to fare poorly there in November.
The president and his administration have sought to pin the blame for the large wildfires on state officials, saying fuel-choked forests and scrub need to be thinned, fire breaks must be cut and flammable dead leaves cleared from forest floors.
Biden has blamed human-caused higher average temperatures in U.S. West coast states for the wildfires.
Calling Trump a “climate arsonist,” Biden said, “If we have four more years of Trump’s climate denial, how many suburbs will be burned by wildfires? How many suburban neighborhoods will have been flooded out,” he said.
Biden was referring to Trump’s focus on suburban voters, saying Biden would bring chaos to them by changing policy on low-income housing. Trump has struck a “law and order” theme in the wake of anti-racism protests.
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