Deadly wildfires rage across the US West Coast

By Mike Hayes and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 12:46 p.m. ET, September 15, 2020
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3:15 p.m. ET, September 14, 2020

Biden: Wildfires are so bad that Americans are left asking, "Is doomsday here?"

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is speaking about the Western wildfires that scientists and officials say have been intensified by the climate crisis.

"Fires are blazing so brightly — smoke racing so far, NASA satellites can see them 1 million miles away in space," Biden said while speaking in Wilmington, Delaware.

But he added that the effects of these disasters are reality for Americans on the ground.

"Loved ones lost, along with the photos, the keepsakes, all the memories," Biden said, while describing the aftermath of the wildfires. "Spouses and kids praying each night for their firefighter husband, father, wife and mother — will they come home? Entire communities destroyed. We have to act as a nation."

He continued:

"It shouldn't be so bad that millions of Americans live in the shadow of an orange sky and are left asking, 'Is doomsday here?'"

WATCH:

1:23 p.m. ET, September 14, 2020

Here are the latest updates on the Pacific Northwest fires

Desiree Pierce cries as she visits her home destroyed by the Almeda Fire on Friday, September 11, in Talent, Oregon. "I just needed to see it, to get some closure," said Pierce.
Desiree Pierce cries as she visits her home destroyed by the Almeda Fire on Friday, September 11, in Talent, Oregon. "I just needed to see it, to get some closure," said Pierce. John Locher/AP

Wildfires are burning all along the US West Coast.

While parts of California — where weather conditions are not expected to improve any time soon as high winds of up to 40 mph are forecast in the coming days — have seen some of the worst fire conditions, parts of Oregon and Washington are burning, too.

Here's what you need to know about the fires in the Pacific Northwest:

  • At least 11 dead: The fires have killed at least 10 people in Oregon, including a young boy who was found dead with his dog in his lap after trying to escape. Another child died in the Cold Springs Fire near Omak, Washington, officials said.
  • An unprecedented fire season: Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said in a typical year, fires consume about 500,000 acres in the state — but "this week alone, we burned over a million acres of beautiful Oregon," she said.
  • Air quality concerns: Smoke from the blazes is making air quality unhealthy, which can irritate lungs, cause inflammation and affect the immune system, heightening the risk of lung infections such as coronavirus. In Seattle, the Woodland Park Zoo said Sunday it is temporarily closing its doors because of the air quality, though a team will remain at the facility to monitor the animals for "respiratory compromise," it said.
2:41 p.m. ET, September 14, 2020

President Trump is on his way to California for a wildfire briefing

From CNN's Betsy Klein

President Donald Trump boards Air Force One in Las Vegas on Monday to travel to Sacramento for a briefing on wildfires.
President Donald Trump boards Air Force One in Las Vegas on Monday to travel to Sacramento for a briefing on wildfires. Andrew Harnik/AP

President Trump is aboard Air Force One and will be wheels up for California momentarily.

Once there, Trump is expected to attend a wildfire briefing. The President is expected to meet with California Gov. Gavin Newsom at the briefing, according to White House spokesperson Judd Deere. The event is closed to press at this time, per daily guidance.

Afterward, Trump is scheduled to deliver public remarks recognizing California’s National Guard.

12:15 p.m. ET, September 14, 2020

Pelosi says she hasn't spoken to Trump about California wildfires

From CNN's Ali Main

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told MSNBC on Monday she has not spoken directly with President Trump about relief for her home state of California as it is ravaged by wildfires, although she said the governors of western states have been in contact with Congress about the unfolding situation.

She did note that she did not have any complaints about federal efforts to assist in California.

Pelosi said when she left the state last weekend the air was "unhealthy and terrible," adding that there are both "short-term" and "long-term" issues that must be addressed — including the environmental threat of the climate crisis.

"The denial of the science of climate change is something that is...some people are going to have to answer to their children and grandchildren for," Pelosi said.

The California Democrat said she recently had a virtual meeting on the climate crisis with G7 and European Union leaders in which the world leaders agreed climate change is "a fact that has to be dealt with," quipping "why the President ignores that, I don't know."

"When the President says all they have to do is rake the leaves and ignore the climate challenge that we face, it's really quite sad," Pelosi said, referencing to Trump's insistence that poor "forest management" is to blame for the devastating fires.

12:08 p.m. ET, September 14, 2020

At least 29 fires are burning across California

From CNN's Hollie Silverman

The Bobcat Fire burns near homes in Arcadia, California, on September 13.
The Bobcat Fire burns near homes in Arcadia, California, on September 13. David McNew/Getty Images

Firefighters in California have been battling multiple fires throughout the state for nearly a month as hot, dry weather has fueled flames and created tinderbox conditions in some areas.

More than 16,750 firefighters were battling 29 major wildfires across the state as of Sunday, according to CalFire.

Deadly fires have burned an astonishing 3.3 million acres in the state in 2020, creating smoky conditions and weather concerns that have resulted in partial power shutoffs for thousands of California residents in an effort to prevent additional fires.

What's behind the fires? Both Gov. Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti have attributed the intensity of this seasons fires to climate change, pushing back on President Donald Trump's assertion that the fires were due to poor land management.

11:17 a.m. ET, September 14, 2020

Here's what Trump is doing in California today

From CNN's Veronica Stracqualursi

The White House on Saturday announced President Trump will visit California, hours after Trump thanked the firefighters and first responders battling the historic wildfires raging in the western part of the United States.

Trump's public acknowledgment of the crisis comes after weeks of remaining largely silent on the fires that have killed over two dozen people and burned millions of acres.

Trump will visit McClellan Park, California, on Monday for a briefing with local and federal fire and emergency officials on the state's wildfires, the White House said Saturday.

Over the past few weeks, Trump hasn't tweeted about the devastating wildfires, despite regularly posting to his Twitter feed. His relative silence adds to his history of offering little empathy in the face of natural disasters, and tendency to attack Democratic leaders for their handling of crises

But on Friday, he posted to Twitter: "THANK YOU to the 28,000+ Firefighters and other First Responders who are battling wildfires across California, Oregon, and Washington."

The President also said he approved funds to "support their brave work" and added, "We are with them all the way!"

Trump mentioned the wildfires over an hour into his speech at a rally Saturday night in Minden, Nevada.

"Our hearts are with all of the communities in the West battling devastating wildfires," Trump told his supporters, adding that "my administration is closely coordinating with state and local leaders."

Trump repeatedly said the fires are about "forest management," a characterization he has repeatedly offered of such blazes that has been previously criticized as inaccurate.

"It is about forest management, please remember the words, very simply, forest management, please remember, about forest management, and other things," he said, also thanking the firefighters and first responders who are reacting to the fires.

10:48 a.m. ET, September 14, 2020

Climate crisis intensified the West Coast fire season, officials say — and scientists say it could get worse

From CNN's Drew Kann and Brandon Miller

A firefighter in Jamul, California, battles the Valley Fire along Japatul Road on September 6.
A firefighter in Jamul, California, battles the Valley Fire along Japatul Road on September 6. Sandy Huffaker/AFP/Getty Images

It's a devastating and historic fire season in the West — and scientists and local officials say the climate crisis is to blame.

In California, three of the five largest wildfires in state history are currently burning, officials say

Oregon's governor said in a typical year, fires consume about 500,000 acres in the state — but "this week alone, we burned over a million acres of beautiful Oregon," she said.

And last week in Washington, more acres were burned in the state on a single day than were charred in the past 12 fire seasons, Gov. Jay Inslee said.

Here's a look at what we know about climate change and the unprecedented wildfires:

  • West Coast leaders blame climate change: Both Gov. Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti have attributed the intensity of this season's fires to climate change. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said climate change and mismanagement of the nation's forests are both to blame.
  • What Trump is saying: Meanwhile, President Trump at a weekend rally repeatedly said the fires are about "forest management," a characterization he has repeatedly offered of such blazes that has been previously criticized as inaccurate.
  • Warnings from scientists: Scientists have warned for years that fire seasons like this could come to pass, and that the more we humans heat up the planet, the more we are increasing the odds in favor of the hot, dry conditions conducive to fires. Though the scale of destruction is hard to fathom, climate scientists say we should not be surprised. "It's shocking to see the impacts, but not scientifically surprising," Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA and the National Center for Atmospheric Research told CNN last week. "This is in line with essentially every prediction for what could happen this year and the trends we're seeing over years and decades."
  • It could get worse: How bad it gets depends on what we as humans do to reduce heat-trapping gas emissions, said Michael Mann, the director of Penn State University's Earth System Science Center. "By some measure, it's clear that 'dangerous climate change' has already arrived," Mann said in response to emailed questions from CNN. "It's a matter of how bad we're willing to let it get."
10:07 a.m. ET, September 14, 2020

Oregon governor blames fires on climate change and decades of forest mismanagement

From CNN's Melissa Alonso

Smoke fills the sky in Portland, Oregon, on September 10.
Smoke fills the sky in Portland, Oregon, on September 10. Diego Diaz/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said climate change and mismanagement of the nation's forests are both to blame for the fires raging in her state and across the West Coast, during an interview on CBS Face the Nation. 

Brown was responded to questions about a former Oregon lawmaker's op-ed in the Washington Post, which alleges the state mismanaged forests and ignored warnings. 

"It's decades of mismanagement of our forests in this country and it is the failure to tackle climate change, we need to do both, and we can," Brown said.

According to Brown, Oregon usually has about 500,000 acres burned in fires annually.

"This week alone, we burned over a million acres of beautiful Oregon," said Brown.

This year, "we saw the perfect fire storm, we saw incredible winds, we saw very cold, hot temperatures and of course we have a landscape that has seen 30 years of drought," Brown said. "This is truly the bellwether for climate change on the West Coast," according to Brown.

What other leaders are saying: Both Gov. Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti have also attributed the intensity of this season's fires to climate change. Meanwhile, President Trump at a weekend rally repeatedly said the fires are about "forest management," a characterization he has repeatedly offered of such blazes that has been previously criticized as inaccurate.

10:13 a.m. ET, September 14, 2020

California officials say climate change made this fire season so intense

California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks to the media outside of Oroville, California, after viewing the North Complex Fire zone on September 11.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks to the media outside of Oroville, California, after viewing the North Complex Fire zone on September 11. Paul Kitagaki Jr./Pool/The Sacramento Bee/AP

Both Gov. Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti have attributed the intensity of this season's fires to climate change, pushing back on President Trump's assertion that the fires were due to poor land management.

"It's been very clear that years of drought, as we're seeing, whether it's too much water and too much rain in parts of our country right now, or too little," Garcetti told CNN's Jake Tapper on "State of the Union" Sunday. "This is climate change and this is an administration that's put its head in the sand."

Record breaking temperatures and a lack of rain have only exacerbated conditions in a state that has seen dozens of deaths.

What Trump said: The President mentioned the wildfires over an hour into his speech at a rally Saturday night in Minden, Nevada.

Trump repeatedly said the fires are about "forest management," a characterization he has repeatedly offered of such blazes that has been previously criticized as inaccurate.