US President Donald Trump takes a brief break from the campaign trail on Monday to visit California, where record wildfires have killed 35 people and fueled accusations he is in denial about climate change.
The blazes have burned nearly five million acres (two million hectares) across the US West, torching an area roughly the size of the state of New Jersey, with fears the death toll may rise.
Trump is set to arrive late morning in McClellan Park, where heads of California’s emergency services will brief him on the fires. He will then give a speech recognizing the state’s National Guard.
The president’s visit is to last only a few hours, before he heads to Arizona to return to the campaign trail.
Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris is set to tour the damage Tuesday. She has tweeted that Trump has “denied evidence” the fires were “intensified by the climate crisis.”
Of at least 35 people killed by the blazes since the beginning of summer, 27 died last week alone.
Trump has made little comment about the blazes in recent weeks, but at a Nevada campaign event on Saturday he acknowledged the scope of the disaster.
“They never had anything like this,” said Trump, who systematically downplays global warming. “Please remember the words, very simple, forest management.”
Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti hit back at the president’s remarks Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“This is climate change, and this is an administration that’s put its head in the sand,” Garcetti said.
“Talk to a firefighter if you think that climate change isn’t real… This isn’t about forest management or raking.”
Climate change amplifies droughts, which dry out regions, creating ideal conditions for wildfires to spread out-of-control and inflict unprecedented damage.
With battle lines drawn ahead of November’s election, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is also due to address the wildfires and their cause Monday.
He recently called the threat of climate change “undeniable” and “existential.”
Much of the West Coast remained coated in dense smog through Sunday, with Portland the world’s most air-polluted city according to IQAir.
“It’s apocalyptic,” Washington state Governor Jay Inslee told ABC’s “This Week.”
“It’s maddening right now we have this cosmic challenge to our communities, the entire West Coast of the United States on fire, to have a president to deny that these are not just wildfires, these are climate fires,” he said.
Most of the fatalities have occurred in California and Oregon, with emergency services in the two states recording 26 deaths.
More than 30,000 firefighters are battling the blazes, with officials warning that improved weather could end Monday as windier conditions return.
Residents of Arcadia, on the outskirts of Los Angeles, were ordered to evacuate Sunday as the nearby Bobcat Fire spread south through forested terrain toward the metropolis.
Two new deaths were confirmed from the North Complex Fire, which swept at unprecedented speeds this week into areas already ravaged less than two years ago by the Camp Fire — California’s deadliest ever blaze.
“There are still active fires, power lines are down, trees are down, there are roads that are impassable,” said Sheriff Kory Honea, warning evacuees it could take “weeks and weeks” to return to their homes.
Paul Clement described to AFP how he fled his home in Berry Creek.
“When I came around the bend, everything was on fire — an entire hillside. So I ended up driving through and you couldn’t see 50 feet (15 meters).”
“It was worse than the Camp Fire, which I didn’t think was possible.”
California has seen 3.3 million acres burn — an annual record, with more than three months of the fire season still to come — and over 4,100 structures destroyed.
Near the Beachie Creek Fire, east of the Oregon capital Salem, police had set up multiple roadblocks on Sunday. Long lines of cars stretched in front of them, waiting in thick fog to pass through.
“We went back to Mill City this morning, but police advised us not to as it is dangerous,” Elaina Early told AFP. “The conditions are really not good.”
“My son is six and he is in shock, it’s hard for him,” the 36-year-old added.