On the West Coast, leaders plead for ‘all the help we can get.’

Source: By Peter Baker, Lisa Friedman, and Alan Yuhas, New York Times • Posted: Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The wildfires raging on the West Coast became an all but inescapable crisis around the country on Tuesday, with at least 27 people dead in three states, fires and evacuations starting in Idaho, milky smoke clouding the skies over Michigan and haze reaching as far as New York City.

In the states where the fires are burning worst — with more than five million acres charred so far in Oregon, California and Washington State — the authorities were trying to adapt to a disaster with no clear end in sight, under conditions deeply exacerbated by climate change.

Maps: Fires and Air Quality in California, Oregon and Washington

Where major fires are burning in the Western states and how unhealthy air quality has become.

The Bay Area, under a choking blanket of smoke for four weeks, set another record for consecutive warnings about hazardous air. The Oregon State Police established a mobile morgue as teams searched incinerated buildings for survivors and the dead. Alaska Airlines suspended flights out of Portland, Ore., and Spokane, Wash., citing “thick smoke and haze.” And Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon requested a presidential disaster declaration, saying late Monday, “to fight fires of this scale, we need all the help we can get.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom of California met with President Trump on Monday in McClellan Park, near Sacramento, thanking him for federal help and agreeing that forest management could be better — while also noting that only 3 percent of land in California is under state control, compared to 57 percent under federal control. The governors of all three states stressed that climate change had made fires more dangerous, drying forests with rising heat and priming them to burn, science that on Monday the president denied.

“The rules of fighting wildfires are changing because our climate is changing,” Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington wrote in an open letter on Monday. “There is no fire suppression plan on this planet that does anyone any good if it doesn’t even acknowledge the role of climate change.”

Addressing Mr. Trump directly, he wrote, “I hope you had an enlightening trip to the West Coast, where your refusal to address climate change — and your active steps to allow even more carbon pollution — will accelerate devastating wildfires like you are seeing today.”

Firefighters continued trying to contain the dozens of fires on Tuesday morning. In California, the August Complex fire, which has burned more than 750,000 acres northwest of Sacramento, was contained to about 30 percent, and the Creek Fire northeast of Fresno, which has burned more than 200,000 acres, was contained about 16 percent.

In Oregon, tens of thousands of people were still under evacuation orders and the Beachie Creek fire, east of Salem, grew to burn almost 200,000 acres.