At least 33 people have died on the US” Western coast as wildfires burn in three states, destroying homes and displacing tens of thousands of people.
These historic wildfires have burned at a record speed and spread through more of the Western coast than in previous years, turning the sky orange. Air contamination levels are also at historic highs due to the smoke, prompting some people to wear masks in their homes.
But the cause of these fires has now become a political debate in the US with President Donald Trump blaming forest mismanagement ahead of a visit to California on Monday.
Democratic governors in the west, meanwhile, say the fires are a consequence of climate change, with numerous studies linking larger wildfires to rising global temperatures.
Washington State Governor Jay Inslee on Sunday called climate change “a blowtorch over our states in the West.”
“It is maddening right now that when we have this cosmic challenge to our communities, with the entire West Coast of the United States on fire, to have a president to deny that these are not just wildfires, these are climate fires,” Inslee said Sunday in a television interview.
California governor Gavin Newsom, who will meet Trump when he visits the state, said: “The debate is over around climate change. Just come to the state of California, observe it with your own eyes.”
California recently recorded its hottest August, with record-setting temperatures in the Death Valley.
Oregon Governor Kate Brown said about 500,000 acres typically burn each year, but just in the past week, flames have swallowed over a million acres, pointing to long-term drought and recent wild weather swings in the state.
“This is truly the bellwether for climate change on the West Coast,” she said Sunday in a television interview.
“And this is a wake-up call for all of us that we have got to do everything in our power to tackle climate change.”
Members of the Trump administration have blamed western states over forest management, brush-clearing work that can help reduce fuel for wildfires.
But Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti accused Trump of perpetuating a lie that only forest management can curtail the massive fires seen in recent years. He pointed to drought and the need to reduce carbon emissions.
Experts say that a warmer world can contribute to the likelihood of more extreme events.