The fires raging through Southern California have so far displaced more than 300,000 people and killed 31, with around 100 citizens still unaccounted for. This tragedy of lives and homes lost should be the only thing that the country is worried about and trying to help. However, the president has inserted himself into the situation and made a natural disaster political. Trump’s response to this tragedy was a tweet that reads, “There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor. Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!”
This ignorant, threatening and insulting reaction has a myriad of problems and misconceptions. Firstly, let’s understand the real reason that there are such intense forest fires ripping through the state. Over the summer, vegetation in California dries out since most of its rainfall comes in the fall and winter. This vegetation becomes kindling for forest fires, which is why they travel so quickly and are so deadly. While the climate of the state has always made it prone to these fires, California has been a few degrees warmer this year as a result of climate change, drying out the vegetation even more and increasing the likelihood and frequency of fires. With the right conditions, only a spark is needed for massive, deadly fires to be ignited. This spark might come from a lightning strike, but more often than not, humans are to blame. Each fall, the Santa Ana winds bring dry air into Southern California, and, to make it worse, their humidity has been steadily lowered by climate change. These winds help to dry out vegetation and carry sparks and embers, spreading the fire’s range even wider.
Another problem that leads to larger, deadlier fires is, although it seems counterintuitive, the fighting of forest fires. Stopping a forest fire stops it from clearing the dried out vegetation. This leads to an accumulation of kindling. This accumulation is usually combatted with controlled burns by firefighters. However, these events are hard to get permission for and need a lot of manpower, making them difficult to orchestrate. Local and state officials have cleared dead shrubs and low vegetation, but this was only enough for a normal year. With the change in climate and the increased winds, there will be more fires, and that is what we are seeing here, not mismanagement. Ironically, around 60 percent of California land is under federal management, so it has been a federal, not private, decision to divert resources away from forest management.
Not only is this statement wildly misinformed and ignorant, it is also extremely inappropriate and unnecessary during this time. Much like in regard to other societal issues, the victim should never be blamed or made to feel shame in a time of tragedy. Instead of offering his sympathies and federal aid, Trump has threatened the removal of this aid that is so needed during this time. It makes absolutely no sense to try to resolve the issue of not enough management of forests through the removal of the funding that helps to manage and mitigate these disasters.
President of California Professional Firefighters, Brian K. Rice, put it well when he stated that, “The president's message attacking California and threatening to withhold aid to the victims of the cataclysmic fires is ill-informed, ill-timed and demeaning to those who are suffering as well as the men and women on the front lines.” Trump’s message has brought politics into tragedy and natural disaster when victims only needed the support of the government. This tweet just shows that, in this administration’s environment of misinformation and ignorance, it is always important to separate political views from something that requires a lens of scientific inquiry and human compassion. If you would like to offer aid, please research and donate to one of the reputable non-profits that are seeking donations, a list of which can be found in the New York Times article “How to Help Those Affected by the California Fires.”
Samantha Pierce is a contributor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.