Biden visits California wildfire damage

President Biden visited California on Monday to tout his efforts to better protect the state from wildfires that have burned more than t...


President Biden visited California on Monday to tout his efforts to better protect the state from wildfires that have burned more than two million acres, displaced thousands of people and pushed responders to the brink of the exhaustion.

“These fires flash our country’s code red,” said Biden, who took the opportunity to promote two bills pending in Congress that would fund more resilient forest and infrastructure management as well as fight against global warming. The country could not “ignore the reality that these wildfires are being supercharged by climate change,” he said.

But experts say there are limits to what the federal government can do to reduce the scale and destructive power of fires, at least in the short term. This is because much of the necessary authority rests with state and local governments, these experts said.

Federal action depends largely on Congress approval of new funding – but even if approved, that money might not make much of a difference anytime soon.

“The impacts of climate change cannot be resolved in a single year,” said Roy Wright, who was in charge of risk mitigation at the Federal Emergency Management Agency until 2018. The goal, he said, should be “investments that will pay off more over the next three to five years.”

On forest fires, like so many others, President Biden presented himself as the opposite of former President Donald J. Trump: clear on the role of climate change, ready to listen to experts and promising to better defend places like California against a growing threat.

“If we have four more years of climate denial from Trump, how many suburbs will be burnt down in wildfires?” Mr. Biden said in a speech last year as California experienced record fires. “If you give a climate arsonist in the White House four more years, why would anyone be surprised if we have more America on fire?”

Mr. Biden, of course, won the election – only to see the damage caused by the wildfires in California and across the country continue to escalate.

On Monday, Mr. Biden flew over the Caldor’s fire, which consumed more than 200,000 acres south of Lake Tahoe and forced thousands of people out of their homes.

“We need to act faster, more firmly and more broadly than today,” Biden told a small crowd gathered at the California governor’s emergency services office. “We can’t afford to let anything slip away. It really is a question of what the world will be like.

Over the past decade, the number of fires in California each year has remained constant, hovering around 7,000 to 10,000 per year.

What has changed is their scale.

Until 2018, the state’s largest wildfires rarely burned more than 300,000 acres, according to state data. In 2018, the ranch fire consumed more than 400,000 hectares, and last year, the August complex fire topped 1 million acres, making it the the biggest fire in the history of the state.

Just north of the Caldor Blaze is the Dixie Blaze, which has already burned over 960,000 acres and is yet to be brought under control. This fire could break last year’s record.

“The fire situation in California is incredibly worse than it was a decade ago,” said Michael Wara, director of the climate and energy policy program at Stanford University. He said that with the exception of 2019, each of the past five years has sparked more destructive fires than the year before.

The California wildfire crisis has often turned into a political struggle. Last summer, President Trump blamed California for its fire problem, and initially denied federal disaster assistance.

“You have to clean your floors, you have to clean your forests,” Mr Trump said said at the time, in comments that focused on just one aspect of a complex problem. “There are many, many years of broken leaves and trees and they’re like, like, so flammable.”

Mr. Trump also dismissed the link between wildfires and global warming. When state officials urged him not to ignore the science of climate change, which shows higher temperatures and drought make fires more destructive, Mr. Trump is wrong. responded, “I don’t think science really knows that.”

While Mr. Trump was wrong to dismiss the role climate change played in exacerbating the fires, he was right to say that more aggressive forest management is vital to tackling these fires, experts say. But much of that work has to come from the federal government, which owns about half of the land in California, Dr Wara said.

Mr Biden’s first budget request, earlier this year, did not ask Congress for enough money to reduce the amount of flammable vegetation in the country’s forests, Dr Wara said. The $ 1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill currently pending on Capitol Hill would dramatically increase that funding.

“There is no solution to the problem of forest fires without addressing how the forests have been managed,” said Dr Wara.

The Biden administration has taken other steps to reduce the damage caused by the fires, including increasing the number of tankers and helicopters available to it and increasing the wages of federal firefighters to $ 15 an hour. .

“We owe them a lot more,” Biden told California emergency responders Monday, before leading a “Happy Birthday” performance for an employee.

FEMA has also made more money available to help communities prepare for fires ahead of time, such as building fire breaks or renovating homes. And after a fire, the agency made it easier for fire victims who lost proof of ownership – documents that are often destroyed in a fire – to seek help rebuilding that house.

And Mr Biden asked Congress to approve measures that would reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. But even if these changes were to become law, the amount of carbon dioxide and other warming gases that have already been released into the atmosphere means the planet will continue to heat up for years to come.

According to Kimiko Barrett, wildland fire policy expert at Headwaters Economics, a Montana advisory group, many of the measures that would go the most in reducing wildfire risk fall outside federal jurisdiction.

Protecting Americans from fires means reducing house building in fire-prone areas – decisions historically made at the national and local levels, she said.

“We develop and build homes in places that are highly prone to forest fires,” said Dr Barrett. She said communities need to integrate the risk of fire into their growth, just as they do with flooding and, increasingly, with rising sea levels.

Still, Mr Biden could use the presidency’s megaphone to encourage state and local officials to think more about where and how they build, said Michele Steinberg, director of the National Wildfire Division. Fire Protection Association.

“Folks, there are what’s called building codes and land use ordinances, and they’re really good, and they really work when they’re enforced,” Ms. Steinberg said in a message that Mr. Biden could pass on. “It would be a big step in the right direction. “

But even if Mr. Biden were to send that message, he would be competing with the deeply held American view that land is something to be enjoyed rather than conserved or protected, she said.

“It’s more like, let’s get the value out of this land that we can right now,” Ms. Steinberg said, “and let the next generation worry about it.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Biden visits California wildfire damage
Biden visits California wildfire damage
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