Oregon Governor Kate Brown says her state has been “pushed to its limits” by the historic wildfires that have destroyed hundreds of hectares of land and wiped out entire communities.
Brown told reporters Monday night that she has asked President Donald Trump to issue a major disaster declaration for the Pacific Northwest U.S. state, which would make additional federal resources available to beleaguered firefighters and other emergency personnel. President Trump had already issued a federal emergency declaration for Oregon last week.
Andrew Phelps, the director of the state’s emergency management agency, said 10 people have been confirmed dead, with 22 other people reportedly missing.
Weather forecasters predict thunderstorms for Oregon on Thursday, which could help firefighters contain the fires and clear the air of smoke that has blanketed the state since the fires began.
Air quality across Oregon has been characterized by state environmental officials as “hazardous” or “very unhealthy.” Visibility has been less than a half-kilometer in some places, according to the National Weather Service, making it dangerous to drive.
The infernos, brought on by several weeks of record heat and dry wind, have destroyed more than a million hectares of land across Oregon, Washington state and California. A combined 35 people have been confirmed dead in the wildfires in the three states.
During a visit to California to speak with state officials about the fires, President Trump once again brushed aside concerns about climate change as a catalyst for the increasing number and intensity of such fires and reiterated his call for Western states to practice better forest management.
“When trees fall down after a short period of time, they become very dry — really like a matchstick,” Trump said when he arrived. “And they can explode. Also leaves. When you have dried leaves on the ground, it’s just fuel for the fires.”
But during the briefing, Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom, a vocal critic of the president, noted that 56% of the land in California is federally owned, so the federal government has a major responsibility to improve forest management along with the state.
Newsom also challenged Trump on his open skepticism about climate change.
“We feel very strongly the hots are getting hotter, the dries are getting dryer,” the governor said. “Something has happened to the plumbing of the world, and we come from a perspective, humbly, that we assert the science that climate change is real. Please respect the difference of opinion out here with respect to the fundamental issue of climate change.”
Trump appeared to side with Newsom, but then predicted that the climate “will start getting cooler.”
When pressed again on climate change by California Secretary for Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot, Trump said “I don’t think science knows actually.”
Before the president’s meeting, former vice president Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential candidate, denounced Trump as “a climate arsonist” during a speech from his home state of Delaware.
The former vice president said Trump’s approach is to ignore the facts and “deny reality,” calling that a full surrender to the effects of climate change.
Steve Herman contributed to this report.