In California, more than 14,000 firefighters are trying to contain large wildfires that have already destroyed more than 470,000 acres and 11,000 homes. Seven people have died in the Carr Fire, which is still growing. The Mendocino Complex fire, which exploded over the weekend, is now the second-largest in California history. The Ferguson Fire near Yosemite National Park has claimed two lives and closed the park indefinitely.
President Donald Trump approved a “major disaster” declaration yesterday and ordered federal assistance for state, tribal, and local efforts to fight fires in California’s Shasta County. Today, though, the president issued a tweet that demonstrated shocking ignorance about California’s fires.
California wildfires are being magnified & made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amounts of readily available water to be properly utilized. It is being diverted into the Pacific Ocean. Must also tree clear to stop fire from spreading!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 6, 2018
In his tweet, Trump claimed that environmental laws are magnifying California wildfires by “diverting” water to the Pacific Ocean. In reality, there are zero reports of water shortages for any of California’s ongoing firefighting efforts, and there are zero places in California where water is diverted to the ocean. It’s possible that Trump was referring to laws that prevent industries, power plants, farms, and cities from sucking up every last drop of Western rivers before they reach the ocean—but those laws safeguard firefighting water supplies as well as fish.
It’s unclear whether Trump’s call for tree clearing “to stop fire from spreading” referred to creating fire lines by felling trees (a common and effective firefighting strategy) or to the mistaken notion that cutting down the nation’s forests is a good way to restore them to a healthier, more fire-resistant condition. While forest thinning and prescribed burns can help reduce fire risk, they are labor-intensive and must be done regularly. And in the case of the most recent California fires—which have burned populated areas as well as forests—hot, dry, windy weather is playing a bigger role than vegetative fuel loading.
Climate change, which is associated with an increase in extreme weather, is just one reason why wildfires are getting worse every year. Despite decades of warnings about the dangers of building new homes in fire-prone areas, more than a third of the houses built in the United States since 2000 have been in these areas.
As the fires rage in California, Trump is proposing to slash federal funding for wildfire science and to eliminate the Joint Fire Science Program run by the Forest Service and six Interior Department agencies. Past research has led to better methods and tools for predicting fires and responding to them, and for reducing the risks to people and property. At a time when fires are becoming increasingly expensive, and climate change is making the problem worse, wildfire science is needed more than ever. The Trump administration has offered no reason for its proposed cuts.
The Bulletin elevates expert voices above the noise. But as an independent, nonprofit media organization, our operations depend on the support of readers like you. Help us continue to deliver quality journalism that holds leaders accountable. Your support of our work at any level is important. In return, we promise our coverage will be understandable, influential, vigilant, solution-oriented, and fair-minded. Together we can make a difference.
What makes this even more incredible is that “illegal” immigrants are being used to fight the California fires.
The Mendocino Complex Fire has now grown from California’s second-largest in history to its largest. http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-california-wildfires-danger-level-20180806-story.html
Along with his misunderstanding of rivers, drought, environmental laws, and climate change, President Trump seems to have a fundamental misunderstanding of how Western wildfires are fought. It’s not primarily by spraying water on the fire, as would be the case if the White House was on fire. Water is used for air drops and protecting structures, but the most important weapons are things like hand tools, bulldozers, flamethrowers, and fire retardants.
Of course Trump is wrong. Storing water in tanks and reservoirs in areas that may be subject to wildfires so that a blaze can quickly be extinguished is a crazy idea. Think of how many California tax dollars would be needed to set up the storage and to maintain the facilities. it is much easier to let the water flow to the ocean, wait for a fire, and truck in or fly in water at great distances to put it out. Trump’s ideas would also put many firefighters and reconstruction contractors out of business because fires would be less destructive.… Read more »
Spraying water on wildfires is not the primary technique for containing them. And when water is used, it’s typically applied by aircraft that scoop water out of a nearby lake or river—and are able to reach steep canyons and other areas where vehicle access is limited. Water is not trucked or flown in from great distances. California fire agencies report that they are not having any difficulties getting whatever water they need for their efforts. None.
Judging from the rapid spread of the fires, I guess that the “primary technique” needs some improvement. I find it hard to believe that having nearby, plentiful water stored in those hard to reach areas would not be useful. Anyway, I doubt that any government would complain that it had been shortsighted or had made a mistake.
The fires spread rapidly because of weather; more water would not have made any difference, and building reservoirs throughout remote (often roadless) areas would not be money well spent. Take it from CalFire, not me: “”We have plenty of water to fight these fires. The Carr fire has Whiskeytown Lake, Shasta Lake and Trinity Lake just to name a few water sources. The Mendocino Complex is next to Clearlake Lake. The current weather is causing more severe and destructive fires.”