WASHINGTON - U.S. President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger in the November national election, former Vice President Joe Biden, focused Monday on the historic destructive wildfires on the West Coast.
Trump, who has stayed mostly silent about the widespread devastation in the three solidly Democratic states — California, Oregon and Washington — is visiting California for a briefing on the wildfires from Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, a vocal critic of the president.
Trump is also visiting McClellan Park near the state capital of Sacramento for more discussions with local and federal officials about the blazes that have killed at least 35 people and destroyed more than a million hectares of land.
Trump, who has often questioned the science of climate change, has blamed poor forest management for the spread of the fires and their intensity. His visit to hard-hit California, which polls show sharply opposes his reelection, will give him an opportunity to offer sympathy for the victims of the fires and emphasize the federal firefighting assistance he has approved.
Meanwhile, Biden is remaining in his home state of Delaware, as he has for much of the campaign, to avoid large crowds and prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Trump continues his campaign rallies in front of thousands of sign-waving supporters, few of whom wear face masks.
Biden, in an outdoor speech near his home in Wilmington, decried Trump’s refusal to acknowledge the scientific underpinning of the climate crisis as "unconscionable" and said the U.S. leader had failed to protect the country from the "ravages of climate change."
"Donald Trump's climate denial may not have caused these fires and record floods and record hurricanes, but if he gets a second term, these hellish events will continue to become more common, more devastating and more deadly," Biden said.
"If you give a climate arsonist four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised if we have more of America ablaze?" Biden said. “If you give a climate denier four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised when more of America is under water?"
Biden has made combating climate change a centerpiece of his campaign, while Trump early in his presidency withdrew the U.S. from the international Paris climate change pact.
Over the weekend, Biden said the West Coast wildfires may be the start of an “unending barrage of tragedies” if countries across the globe do not curb climate-warming emissions. His campaign platform calls for eliminating carbon pollution from power sources over the next 15 years.
“The science is clear, and deadly signs like these are unmistakable — climate change poses an imminent, existential threat to our way of life,” Biden said. “President Trump can try to deny that reality, but the facts are undeniable.”
Last Friday, Trump thanked firefighters and other first responders for their efforts in trying to contain the blazes.
While he has often criticized Newsom by name and assailed what he contends is California’s poor forest management, most of the state’s forests are managed by the federal government.
White House spokesman Judd Deere said Trump has dispatched more than 26,000 federal personnel and 230 helicopters to fight the fires and has spoken by phone with Newsom for updates since mid-August.
Smoke and flames have combined to envelop the cities of San Francisco, Seattle and Portland with some of the worst air quality in the world.
The massive clouds of smoke blanketing the region have endangered the health of millions of residents.
Air quality across the Pacific Northwest state of Oregon was characterized by state environmental officials as “hazardous” or “very unhealthy.”
Tens of thousands of people have fled their homes.
Visibility was less than a half kilometer in some places, according to the National Weather Service, making it dangerous to drive.