(CBS) — President Trump landed in California Monday framed by a smoky sky. He made a rare West Coast swing as wildfires ravage California, Oregon and Washington, and has already approved emergency declarations for the states.
In California, the president questioned climate change, and blamed the fires on poor forest management even though many forests in California are federally managed.
California National Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot disagreed that the rapidly spreading wildfires could entirely be blamed on forest management. He told Mr. Trump, “We want to work with you to really recognize the changing climate, and what it means to our forests.” Crowfoot warned, “If we ignore that science, and sort of put our head in the sand, and think it’s all about vegetation management, we’re not going to succeed together protecting Californians.”
The president claimed the climate would “start getting cooler.”
“I wish science agreed with you,” Crowfoot replied.
“I don’t think science knows,” the president responded.
Mr. Trump said exploding trees, caused by dryness and poor management, are the cause of the fires.
“When trees fall down after a short period of time, about 18 months, they become very dry,” the president said. “They become really like a matchstick … you know, there’s no more water pouring through and they become very, very — they just explode. They can explode.”
The fires have killed at least 35 from California to Washington state, and hundreds of thousands have been forced to evacuate. The smoke has destroyed the air quality up and down the West Coast, yielding the eerie orange images of San Francisco last week. Together, the dozens of fires have burned more than 3 million acres.
The president has long denied the impact of man-made influence on climate change. Asked if California had a climate change problem, Mr. Trump responded, “You’ll have to answer your governor that question. I don’t want to step on his toes.”
Climate scientists say there is powerful evidence that warming trends are making wildfires worse. Fire season is now two to three months longer than it was just a few decades ago across much of the West, and six of the top 20 largest fires in California history are burning right now.
Before his visit, the president acknowledged the unceasing work of first responders.
“THANK YOU to the 28,000+ Firefighters and other First Responders who are battling wildfires across California, Oregon, and Washington,” Mr. Trump tweeted Friday. “I have approved 37 Stafford Act Declarations, including Fire Management Grants to support their brave work. We are with them all the way!”
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden also delivered remarks on the fires and climate change from Delaware, although he is not currently scheduled to visit the West Coast.
“We need a president who respects science,” Biden said in his speech. “Who understands that the damage from climate change is already here. Unless we take urgent action, it’ll soon be more catastrophic.”
In his speech, Biden also labeled Mr. Trump a “climate arsonist” and a “climate denier.”
Mr. Trump stopped in Phoenix later on Monday for a “Latinos for Trump Coalition Roundtable.” The Trump campaign is making a play for Nevada and Arizona, as recent polls show him trailing in both of those states. The campaign believes it is making significant inroads with Latinos, whose populations are strong in Nevada and Phoenix.
Mr. Trump, who rarely spends a night away from the White House or one of his properties, returned to D.C. late Monday evening.
First published on September 14, 2020 / 12:35 PM
© 2020 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.