The statewide death toll from the wildfires blazing in northern and southern California hit 44 as firefighters on Monday continued to battle the flames that have already destroyed thousands of structures and displaced thousands of humans and animals alike. The increased death toll comes as scientists rip President Donald Trump’s recent tweet about the fires avoiding any climate crisis connection to the destruction.
With the Camp Fire raging in nothern California now having claimed the lives of 29 people, it ties the record (pdf) set back in 1933 for the deadliest single wildfire in the state. Having destroyed more than 6,000 structures, it also tops the record for most destructive fire.
It’s only 25 percent contained, and is one of several wildfires ravaging the state, as firefighters are also battling the Woolsey Fire in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, the Hill Fire in Ventura County, and the Nurse Fire in Solano County. And, with over 225 people are still unaccounted for, the death toll may rise.
Trump took to Twitter on Saturday to blame the blazes on “poor forest management.”
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 10, 2018
The tweet drew ire from the head of the California firefighters union as well as legendary rocker Neil Young.
California Professional Firefighters president Brian K. Rice said in a statement that Trump’s “message attacking California and threatening to withhold aid to the victims of the cataclysmic fires is ill-informed, ill-timed, and demeaning to those who are suffering as well as the men and women on the front lines.”
Young, whose home was destroyed in the fire, wrote on his Archives site, “We are vulnerable because of climate change; the extreme weather events and our extended drought is part of it.” He added, “It really is time for a reckoning with this unfit leader. Maybe our new Congress can help. I sure hope so.”
Speaking to the Associated Press, Kristen Thornicke of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany said that while there are multiple factors behind the severity of the fires, “forest management wasn’t one of them.” AP adds:
One reason that scientists know that management isn’t to blame is that some areas now burning had fires in 2005 and 2008, so they aren’t “fuel-choked closed-canopy forests,” [University of Utah fire scientist Philip] Dennison said.
Meteorologists Jeff Masters and Bob Henson pointed Sunday to a Twitter thread from climate scientist Daniel Swain, saying that the posts draw “the links between our evolving climate and California’s fire threat.”
“In many cases, human factors like human encroachment/urban development in high fire-risk wildlands is at least as important as climate change. In other cases, forest and fuels management is also key consideration.” Swain noted. “But on top of these other factors, climate change is acting as a pervasive and growing ‘wildfire threat multiplier.'”
Gov. Jerry Brown pointed to the link between the fires and climate change as well. He said at a press conference Sunday, “This is not the new normal. This is the new abnormal, and this new abnormal will continue, certainly in the next 10, 15, 20 years.”
“Unfortunately, the best science is telling us that dryness, warmth, drought, all those things, they’re going to intensify,” he added. Given that science, climate group 350.org said the fires were just another indication of the dire need to switch to green energy sources.
“California wildfires happen year-round now because of worsening drought and the impacts of climate change,” said the group’s executive director May Boeve. “As Trump makes a mockery out of this destruction to prop up big oil, our communities pay the costs through our homes, lives, and livelihoods. We don’t just need thoughts and prayers, we need real climate action to keep fossil fuels in the ground and transition to 100 percent renewables for all.”