The deadly wildfires sweeping across the US West Coast states show the climate change debate is “over,”
“Come to the state of California. See it with your own eyes,” he told reporters from a charred mountain.
Fires have been raging in California, Oregon and Washington for three weeks.
Ventilated by winds in record heat, the fires burned millions of acres, destroyed thousands of homes and killed at least 25 people.
Oregon Governor Kate Brown said Friday that only dozens are missing in her state.
The fires have burned a total of 4.5 million acres – an area larger than Connecticut and slightly smaller than Wales – in recent weeks, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
What did Newsom say?
The governor, a Democrat, spoke on Friday while inspecting damage to the North Complex Fire near Oroville in Northern California.
“The debate on climate change is over,” he told Newsom reporters. “This is a damn climate emergency. This is real and it is happening.”
He acknowledged the failures in forest management in recent decades, but added: “This is a point, but it is not the point.”
Emphasizing states’ efforts to combat climate change, he said record heat waves and unprecedented fires were the kind of problems scientists long predicted.
President Donald Trump, a climate skeptic, pointed to poor fire control measures as the main cause of the latest fires.
“You have to clean up your forests – there are many, many years of broken leaves and trees and they are … so flammable,” he said at a rally last month.
The North Complex Fire, which has been burning since August 18, is among the deadliest in history. So far ten bodies have been found and another 16 people are missing.
California has seen at least 20 deaths in total from wildfires since August 15. Tens of thousands of people are under evacuation orders as 14,800 firefighters continue to fight 28 major fires in the state.
While natural factors like strong winds have helped spread these huge fires, the underlying warming of the climate due to human activities is making these conflagrations larger and more explosive.
Nine of the world’s ten hottest years on record have occurred since 2005, and the UN warned this week that the five years from 2016 to this year will most likely be the hottest period on record. Both Oregon and California have warmed over 1 ° C since 1900.
The prolonged heat saw six of the 20 largest fires ever recorded in California this year. In Oregon, the wave of wildfires burned nearly double the average annual losses in the past week.
In California, a prolonged drought over the past decade has killed millions of trees, turning them into a powerful fuel for fires. Mountain regions that are normally cooler and wetter have dried up more quickly in the summer, increasing the potential fuel load.
Climate scientists had predicted that western fires would grow in size, size and impact, but their predictions are coming true faster than expected.
- A really simple guide to climate change
What’s happening beyond California?
In Oregon, where firefighters are fighting 16 major fires, 40,000 people are subject to mandatory evacuation orders.
The fires killed four people, but officials warn the deaths could be much higher.
Governor Kate Brown on Friday pleaded with families to stay out of the fire zones despite reports of looting.
“Let me assure you that we have the Oregon National Guard and the Oregon State Police monitoring the situation and preventing looting,” he said.
Beatriz Gomez Bolanos, 41, told Reuters news agency of the frightening race to safety for her family due to fires burning on both sides of their car. He told his four children to close their eyes as they ran away.
“It’s all gone. We have to start from scratch, but we’re alive,” he told the news agency.
At least one fire in Oregon – the Almeda fire, one of the most destructive in the state – is treated as suspected arson.
Smoke pollution from the fires left Oregon’s largest city, Portland, with the worst air quality in the world, followed by San Francisco and Seattle, according to IQAir.com.
In Washington State, firefighters are facing 15 major fires. A one-year-old boy died earlier this week as his family tried to escape a fire. His parents remain in critical condition.
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