Wildfire-hit state leaders focus on climate change ahead of Trump visit

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Wildfires that have killed at least 35 people, caused massive damage and enveloped many parts of the US west coast in smoke have focused attention on climate change as Donald Trump prepares to visit California.

Crews are still battling historic wildfires that have burned faster and further than ever before in the Democratic-led states of California, Oregon and Washington.

Numerous studies in recent years have linked bigger wildfires in the US to global warming from the burning of coal, oil and gas.

State governors say the fires are a consequence of climate change, while the Trump administration has blamed poor forest management for the flames that have raced through the region and made the air quality in cities like Portland, Seattle and San Francisco some of the worst in the world.

A chicken wanders through charred remains from the Beachie Creek Fire near the destroyed Oregon Department of Forestry (AP)

The US president is heading to McClellan Park, a former air base just outside Sacramento, California. State governor Gavin Newsom’s office said he would be meeting Mr Trump.

Washington governor Jay Inslee called climate change “a blowtorch over our states in the west”.

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He told ABC’s This Week: “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.”

As Mr Newsom toured an eerie landscape destroyed by flames on Friday, he lambasted what he called the “ideological BS” of those who deny the danger.

Many parts of the US west coast have been enveloped in smoke after the devastating fires (AP)

“The debate is over around climate change. Just come to the state of California, observe it with your own eyes,” he said.

He noted that just in the last month, California had its hottest ever August, with world-record-setting heat in Death Valley.

The state suffered 14,000 dry lightning strikes which set off hundreds of fires, some that combined into creating five of the 10 largest fires in its recorded history. This coincided with back-to-back heatwaves.

Workers damp down smouldering remnants of the fires in Oregon (AP)

Oregon governor Kate Brown said about 500,000 acres typically burn each year, but just in the past week, flames have swallowed over one 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 told CBS’s Face the Nation.

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“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.”

At a rally in Nevada, Mr Trump blamed the way the states have run the land, saying “it is about forest management”.

White House adviser Peter Navarro echoed that Sunday on CNN’s State Of The Union, saying that for many years in California, “particularly because of budget cutbacks, there was no inclination to manage our forests”.

Forest management, which includes tree thinning and brush clearing, is costly, labour-intensive work that is effective in reducing fuel for wildfires.

Millions of dollars are spent on such reduction efforts every year in western states, though many argue more needs to be done. The efforts can also be undercut when homeowners in rural areas do not undertake similar efforts on their own properties.

Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti accused Mr 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.

“Talk to a firefighter, if you think that climate change isn’t real,” the Democratic mayor told CNN.

Greg Jones, a professor and research climatologist at Linfield University in McMinnville, Oregon, said it is not clear if global warming caused the dry, windy conditions that have fed the fires in the Pacific north-west, but a warmer world can increase the likelihood of extreme events and contribute to their severity.

At least 10 people have been killed in Oregon. Officials have said more people are missing, and the number of fatalities is likely to rise. In California, 24 people have died, and one person was killed in Washington state.

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