By midweek, firefighters had partially contained the Camp Fire, which has swallowed up some 130,000 acres, and the search for more human remains continued. The town of Paradise has been virtually annihilated. As tens of thousands of Californians remained displaced, state officials called in portable morgue teams, a “disaster mortuary” crew and cadaver dog units, according to Reuters.
In response to this disaster, President Trump’s callous initial reaction was to insist that the only reason California experiences wildfires is “mismanagement of the forests” and demand that the state “remedy now, or no more Fed payments!” In fact, the Camp Fire is blazing through not forestland but urban-rural zones that have vegetation to burn but are also close to people. The president’s outburst is doubly bizarre because the federal government manages most of the state’s forests. If there is a forest management problem, it is with the U.S. Forest Service’s past budgets, which went increasingly to firefighting rather than care and prevention. More logging would not help prevent wildfires as much as some might think; highly combustible dry brush is the fuel on which wildfires thrive.
Mr. Trump has since changed his tone, and federal aid has flowed to California. But his reaction was not an isolated incident. The president is pushing hard against disaster funding for hurricane-racked Puerto Rico, another place where Mr. Trump is unpopular.
Meanwhile, if the president is going to raise the question of how to reduce the likelihood of disasters such as the Camp Fire, he should look at his own policies. Wildfires are getting bigger, more unpredictable and, therefore, more destructive. It is hard to attribute any particular disaster to climate change. But bigger and more destructive blazes are among the consequences experts predict will occur as the world warms. Hotter temperatures lead to drier brush ideal for burning. Warm nighttime temperatures keep fires going at times they used to abate. Droughts followed by large amounts of rainfall can result in a burst of plant growth that sets the stage for future fires. So can longer growing seasons.
If Mr. Trump thinks the bill for governmental mismanagement is high now, wait until the costs for his administration’s abdication on climate change come due.