By Jeff Mason and Trevor Hunnicutt
The U.S. presidential race on Monday turned its focus to the wildfires sweeping the Pacific Northwest, with President Donald Trump set to visit California after blaming the blazes on poor forest management and Democratic challenger Joe Biden speaking about the role of climate change in stoking the fires.
The Republican president, seeking re-election on Nov. 3, is due to meet with firefighters and emergency officials in Northern California after facing criticism from Democrats for remaining mostly silent on the largest wildfires in state history, except for seeking to blame the blazes on failures by the state government.
Biden, slammed by Republicans for failing to visit disaster areas, will speak from his home state of Delaware on the threat of extreme weather that caused West Coast blazes and the need to tackle global climate change, according to his campaign.
Trump, who pulled the United States out of the Paris accord that laid out an international approach to combat climate change, has authorized federal disaster aid for both California and Oregon. The Paris accord was one of numerous international agreements Trump has abandoned.
Biden has included climate change in his list of major crises facing the United States, along with the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 194,000 Americans and pushed the country into an economic recession.
A blitz of wildfires across Oregon, California and Washington state has destroyed thousands of homes and a half dozen small towns since August, scorching more than 4 million acres (1.6 million hectares) and killing more than two dozen people.
“Vice President Biden will discuss the threat that extreme weather events pose to Americans everywhere, how they are both caused by and underscore the urgent need to tackle the climate crisis, and why we need to create good-paying, union jobs to build more resilient infrastructure,” his campaign said on Sunday.
After four days of brutally hot, windy conditions in Oregon, the weekend brought calmer winds blowing inland from the Pacific Ocean, and cooler, moister weather that helped crews make headway against blazes that burned unchecked last week.
Still, Oregon emergency officials worried that the shifting weather might bring increased winds after fires killed at least 10 people, with dozens of people missing, according to Oregon Governor Kate Brown.
Thick smoke and ash from the fires have darkened skies over the West Coast for a week, creating some of the world’s worst air-quality levels.
As the smoke that has been clogging the air and blocking heat from the sun begins to lift, California firefighters expected the weather to heat up and fire activity to possibly increase, the state’s fire authority Cal Fire said.
All told in California, nearly 17,000 firefighters were battling 29 major wildfires on Sunday, state fire authority Cal Fire said.
More than 4,000 homes and other structures have been incinerated in California alone over the past three weeks. About 3 million acres (1.2 million hectares) of land, an area approaching the size of Connecticut, have been burned in the state, according to Cal Fire.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Trevor Hunnicutt; Additional reporting reporting by Andrew Hay; Editing by Will Dunham)