As wildfires ravage the American West Coast, with more than four million acres burned and at least 33 people dead, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., slammed President Donald Trump for his comments redirecting blame for the wildfires away from climate change.
"We know that climate change is making fires start easier, spread faster and intensify. And it is maddening right now that when we have this cosmic challenge to our communities, with the entire West Coast of the United States on fire, to have a president to deny that ... these are climate fires," Inslee told ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos on Sunday.
Inslee and Merkley appeared together on ABC's "This Week," a day after Trump told supporters at a campaign rally in Las Vegas that the wildfires raging across the West Coast were "about forest management." The president's comments Saturday came after criticism that the White House failed to meaningfully mention the wildfires for weeks.
"I spoke to the folks in Oregon, Washington. They're really having -- they've never had anything like this. But, you know, it is about forest management. Please remember the words, very simple, 'forest management,'" the president said.
"The president has said it's all about raking the forest. It's just a -- a big and devastating lie," Merkley said after being questioned by Stephanopoulos on whether forest management was contributing to the fires. "The Cascade snowpacks have gotten smaller. Our forests have gotten drier. Our ocean has gotten warmer and more acidic. And this has been happening steadily over the last several decades."
While Inslee maintained that climate change was most responsible for the wildfires, he acknowledged that "there are places where it makes sense that we thin our timber. And we are doing that. Of course, the Trump administration doesn't want to help us actually finance that. They just want an excuse."
As wildfires continue to spread, state officials have also had to respond to rumors spreading on social media, including that antifascist activists started the blazes. When pressed by Stephanopoulos about what people can do to confront the disinformation, Inslee replied, "vote."
"Get out there and vote against any politician like Donald Trump who has downplayed climate change, just like he's downplayed COVID," the Washington Democrat said.
"Most of the scientists thought maybe we had a few more years to deal with this. But it's today. The orange skies over California is something that we thought Hollywood just would portray in some apocalypse movie. But it's today," he added.
With deaths from the wildfires rising, Portland, Seattle and San Francisco among the worst cities for air quality anywhere in the world.
The fires have scorched more than double Oregon's yearly average amount of acres in the past week, with over 10% of the state living in evacuation zones. A top state official said in a press conference Friday that Oregon was preparing for a "mass casualty incident."
"We have thousands of people who have lost their homes. I could never have envisioned this -- the east winds came over the top of the mountain, proceeded to turn the fires into blow torches that went down and just incinerated a series of small towns," Merkley said. "You have community after community with fairgrounds full of people, of refugees from the fires."
In Washington, wildfires have burned on both sides of the Cascade mountains, consuming more than 675,000 acres of land as of Sunday morning, according to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center.
Inslee warned that the entire country should view the blazes as a warning of what could come if climate change is not addressed.
"If this is not a signal to the United States, I don't know what it will take. Because, as (California) Gov. (Gavin) Newsom suggested, it may not be fires in the Midwest. It's floods in Hamburg, which washed away Hamburg, Iowa. It's the rising seas that are drowning Miami Beach. It's the hurricanes on the East Coast," the governor told Stephanopoulos.
"We need to act, and we need to act now. And these people whose homes were destroyed, that I've seen, with their tears, in the last few days, they deserve action against climate change," he added.