California is suffering the aftermath of the most devastating wildfire in its history. After an extended dry season, powerful winds swept flames through Paradise town in Northern California. Until Thursday, 56 bodies had been recovered while 130 people were missing. The fire has destroyed thousands of homes across 55,000 hectares, including those of Hollywood celebrities Miley Cyrus and Gerard Butler, besides partially damaging that of Guillermo del Toro. California has always been prone to wildfires every dry season. What has made the wildfire particularly severe this time? According to President Donald Trump, it is the result of forest mismanagement. Scientists quoted by various news publications, on the other hand, have linked it to climate change.
Trump tweeted last week: “There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor. Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!”
A Reuters report says the tweet shone a spotlight on California ’s increasingly dry and overgrown forests, which it described as effectively being large-scale tinderboxes. Reuters describes the findings this year by the Little Hoover Commission, an independent state oversight agency, whose report outlined recommendations such as increased prescribed burning and dedicating more money and jobs toward forest management.
Reuters also cited a US Forest Service report, which had found that federal and state restrictions have caused timber harvesting in California to decline more than 70% between the late 1980s and 2012.
Those attributing the wildfire to climate change argue that recent years have produced record-breaking temperatures, earlier springs and less reliable rainfall. Population growth is another factor. The New York Times describes a 2015 study by geoscientist Fengpeng Sun and colleagues, who suggest California has two fire seasons. One, from June to September, is driven by warmer, drier weather in Western California. The other, from October to April, is driven by strong gusts called the Santa Ana winds in Southern California; these spread three times faster and burn closer to urban areas. Researchers project that moist, forested areas are the most likely to face greater threats from wildfires as conditions in those areas become drier and hotter, the Union of Concerned Scientists of the USA says in a web post.