LOS ANGELES — Senior members of President Donald Trump’s administration visited California Monday as blazes that have killed at least eight people continued to cut a catastrophic swathe through the country’s most populous state.
Tens of thousands have been forced to flee their homes over the last month, with 14 fires still threatening land and property from south of Los Angeles to the state’s border with Oregon.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke – wrapping up a two-day tour of the Carr Fire’s path to the west of Redding in northern California – met rescuers alongside Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.
Over the weekend, firefighters made encouraging progress on the inferno, which has destroyed more than 1,000 homes and other property, according to federal and local government data.
But the 82,000-hectare blaze is still less than two-thirds contained after killing eight people and prompting the evacuation of 40,000.
"Thanks to all firefighters keeping the communities of Northern California safe! The CarrFire is devastating our publiclands and it’s time we properly manage our forests," Zinke tweeted.
He and Perdue were introduced to "smokejumpers" – elite firefighters who parachute into remote areas, risking their lives to perform the initial attacks on wildfires.
The temperatures have remained in double digits in recent days but emergency workers say they are bracing for hotter weather, dry air and gusty winds over the coming days.
"Important to remember that not only are they battling the flames, but they often are affected personally as well. We are grateful for their service and bravery," Perdue tweeted after addressing emergency workers from various agencies at a lunch.
Around 160 kilometers southwest of Redding, the Mendocino Complex wildfire, California’s largest in history, has scorched 345,000 acres.
The blaze is made up of the Ranch and River fires, which were respectively 59 per cent and 93 per cent contained by Monday morning, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire).
Zinke’s visit with Perdue came days after Trump suggested that California’s environmental policies had deprived firefighters of water and left too many trees that could fuel fires.
Some activists have acknowledged that many of the state’s forests are too dense and require more aggressive management, but Cal Fire officials have stated they have enough water.
Other experts have added that California’s most destructive blazes have started in shrublands, not thick forests, and that the devastating fire season has been lengthened by climate change.
Zinke angered activists by downplaying the importance of global warming in wildfire management as he began his California visit on Sunday.
"I’ve heard the climate change argument back and forth," he said in an interview with television station KCRA 3.
"This has nothing to do with climate change. This has to do with active forest management." — AFP