SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — The debate over who and what is responsible for wildfires in our area can easily become political, but the answer is not a simple one. Experts say there is not just one factor leading to the devastating firestorms.
In his visit to California Monday, President Trump ignited a debate on the root cause of forest fires ravaging the state.
“It’s like explosive, it’s the only word. You drop a cigarette on it, you come back a half-hour later and you have a forest fire,” Trump said to reporters.
In a meeting with the president, Gov. Gavin Newsom pointed to climate change as the problem for the flames throughout the state.
“We obviously feel very strongly that the hots are getting hotter the dries are getting drier,” Newsom said.
Newsom is asking for more funding, highlighting that 57% of the state’s forest land is federally-owned. Pres. Trump told the room of state leaders that the weather is not a long-term problem.
“It’ll start getting cooler, you just watch,” Trump said.
The Secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency, Wade Crowfoot, disagrees. In a tweet, he responded to the president’s claims, saying, “It actually won’t get cooler Mr. President.” Crowfoot attached a picture to the social media post illustrating the rising temperatures in the last five decades.
— Wade Crowfoot (@WadeCrowfoot) September 14, 2020
Cal Fire says it’s not a simple fix, pointing to factors including changes in weather, population, vegetation and 14,000 lightning strikes happening this year, sparking fires.
“Fire seasons on average now are about 75% longer than they were 40 years ago,” Cal Fire spokesperson Lynn Tolmachoff said. “It’s a long-term project. It’s not going to be a quick fix, it’s not going to be easy, but neither is making changes to the climate.”
Tolmachoff said Cal Fire’s goal is to treat 500,000 acres a year with prescribed burns, timber harvesting, and mechanical thinning. UC Berkeley Forestry Specialist Dr. Bill Stewart believes no amount of forest management would prevent the massive fires we’ve seen recently.
“The wind-driven fires we’re having now, nothing is gonna slow those down. When you get high, 30 mph consistent winds, it doesn’t matter what you did. It’s gonna burn,” Dr. Stewart said.
Dr. Stewart explained neglected forests can fan the flames, but believes it will take more than money to fix, requiring California to loosen rules about logging.
“Having six of the 10 biggest fires in the last two years suggests that things are very different now than they were over the last 50 years,” Stewart said.
Cal Fire and Dr. Stewart agree that controlled burns can help the problem.