Donald Trump has blamed wildfires – which have killed at least 31 people across the US west coast – on “forest management”.
The president made the comments during an election rally in Nevada ahead of a visit to California on Monday, where 22 people have died since the fires broke out in mid-August.
Speaking to supporters in Minden – many of whom were not wearing face masks, or practisingsocial distancing – he said: “Tonight our hearts are with all of the communities in the west battling devastating wildfires.
“I’m going to be going to California. Spoke to the folks in Oregon, Washington. They never had anything like this.
“But you know, it is about forest management.
“Please remember the words,” he told a cheering crowd, adding: “Very simple. Forest management.”
In November 2019, Mr Trump made similar comments when he threatened to cut federal aid to California for fighting wildfires, saying its governor had done a “terrible job of forest management” and should “get his act together”.
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Mr Trump’s Democratic rival, Joe Biden, and the governors of California, Oregon and Washington state – all Democrats – have said the fires are a consequence of global warming.
Mr Biden said: “We absolutely must act now to avoid a future defined by an unending barrage of tragedies like the one American families are enduring across the west today.”
In Oregon, around 500,000 residents have been warned to evacuate due to historic high levels of air pollution.
In San Francisco, the fires blanketed the city’s iconic Golden Gate Bridge in darkness and an orange glow.
Around 16,000 firefighters in California were battling 28 major wildfires across the state, although most were ignited on Thursday and quickly contained.
Oregon’s emergency management director said officials there were preparing for a possible “mass fatality event”.
The deadly blazes have also destroyed some towns and displaced tens of thousands of people.
In Washington state, the land burned in the past five days amounted to its second-worst fire season – after 2015 – according to Governor Jay Inslee.
“This is not an act of God,” he said.
“This has happened because we have changed the climate.”
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The air quality index reading on Saturday morning in Oregon’s capital, Salem, was 512 – the scale normally goes from 0 to 500.
“Above 500 is literally off the charts,” said Laura Gleim, a spokesperson for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
Ms Gleim also said that because past air quality was rarely so poor, the government’s yardstick for measuring it was capped at 500.
The weather conditions that led up to the fires and fuelled the flames were likely a once-in-a-generation event, according to Greg Jones, a professor and research climatologist at Linfield University in McMinnville, Oregon.
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He has suggested that a large high-pressure area, stretching from the desert southwest to Alaska, brought strong winds from the east toward the west coast, reducing relative humidity to as low as 8% and bringing desert-like conditions even along the Pacific Ocean.
Instead of the offshore flows that the Pacific Northwest normally enjoys, the strong easterly winds pushed fires down the western slopes of the Cascade Range.
It is not clear if global warming caused the conditions, Mr Jones said, but added that a warmer world can increase the likelihood of extreme events and contribute to their severity.