The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump points fingers while California burns

A Pacific Gas and Electric Co. worker locates a gas main line in front of a burned-out home during the Camp Fire in Paradise, Calif, on Nov. 13. (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg)

THIS YEAR may be remembered for last week’s anti-Trump voter revolt or the advance of the #MeToo movement. But in California, 2018 might be remembered for its monster wildfires.

The Camp Fire north of Sacramento is the deadliest wildfire in California’s history, with 48 fatalities as of Tuesday night and scores of people still missing. The fire also set a record for destructiveness, burning nearly 9,000 structures. This carnage comes just three months after the Mendocino Complex Fire broke the record for the largest blaze in California’s books, which came less than a year after another round of huge fires last October.

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.

Read more:

Michael E. Mann: It’s not rocket science: Climate change was behind this summer’s extreme weather

The Post’s View: We won’t stop California’s wildfires if we don’t talk about climate change

Eugene Robinson: Climate change is real. Welcome to the new normal.

Katrina vanden Heuvel: Why isn’t the media covering climate change all day, every day?

David Arkush and David Michaels: Climate change isn’t just cooking the planet. It’s cooking our workforce.