Skip to content

Trump Wrong About Forest Fires

August 7, 2018

The lack of cogent thinking from Donald Trump showcased itself this week–and yes it is only Tuesday– when he decided to know something about forest fires.  

No one would mistake President Trump for an expert on climate change or water policy, but a tweet he issued late Sunday about California’s wildfires deserves some sort of award for most glaring misstatements about those two issues in the smallest number of words.

Trump blamed the fires on “bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amount of readily available water to be properly utilized.” He complained that water needed for firefighting is being “diverted into the Pacific Ocean.”

What he overlooked, plainly, is the increasing agreement among experts that intensifying climate change has contributed to the intensity of the wildfire season. California’s woodlands have been getting drier and hotter. As my colleagues Rong-Gong Lin II and Javier Panzar reported over the weekend, “California has been getting hotter for some time, but July was in a league of its own.”

Let’s take Trump’s misconceptions in order. The likeliest explanation for his take on water is that he’s confused by the demands for more irrigation water he’s hearing from Republican officeholders in the Central Valley. They’re the people who grouse about water being “wasted” by being diverted to the ocean, rather than into their fields.

Their demands have nothing to do with the availability of water for firefighting. Fire agencies haven’t been complaining about a lack of water, especially water “diverted” to the Pacific. Major reservoirs are near the worst fire zones; the Carr fire is near Lake Shasta and Whiskeytown Lake and the Mendocino Complex fire is near Clear Lake. All are at or near their historical levels.

“There have been no issues getting water from them,” Scott McLean, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, told me.

Cal Fire, which is managing the wildfire battle, has deployed some 200 water tenders to the fire zone and is dispatching air tankers as flying conditions permit.

“The idea that there isn’t enough water is the craziest thing in the world,” says Peter Gleick, president emeritus of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security in Oakland. “There’s absolutely no shortage.”

The availability of water isn’t necessarily a governing factor in fighting wildfires, which aren’t battled like tenement blazes in the urban center. The battle is dictated by topography, the construction of physical fire breaks, and the use of fire retardant dropped from airborne vessels.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: