Donald Trump has told Americans affected by the fires raging across the country’s west coast that temperatures will “start getting cooler”, playing down the impact of climate change.
The fires have burned millions of acres in California, Oregon and Washington since mid-August, and forced hundreds of thousands of people to evacuate their homes. The death toll stands at 33.
Today Mr Trump travelled to California, where he was briefed by Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom and other state officials. One of those officials was Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot.
“We’ve had temperatures explode this summer. You may have learned that we broke a record in the Death Valley, 130 degrees (fahrenheit, 54 degrees celsius). But even in greater LA, 120-plus degrees (49 degrees celsius),” Mr Crowfoot told the President.
“And we’re seeing this warming trend make our summers warmer, but also our winters warmer as well. But I think one area of mutual agreement and priority is vegetation management.
“But I think we want to work with you to really recognise the changing climate, and what it means to our forests, and actually work together with that science.
“That science is going to be key, because if we ignore that science, and sort of put our head in the sand and think it’s all about vegetation management, we’re not going to succeed together protecting Californians.”
“OK. It’ll start getting cooler. You just watch,” Mr Trump replied.
“I wish science agreed with you,” said Mr Crowfoot.
“Well, I don’t think science knows, actually,” said the President.
Mr Crowfoot hit back at Mr Trump on Twitter shortly afterwards, sharing a graph showing the spike in California’s average temperature and retweeting a message from Mr Newsom’s chief of staff Ann O’Leary calling for “no more climate denial”.
Mr Trump has rarely mentioned the wildfire crisis publicly in the month since it started. When he has spoken about it, he’s blamed the fires on poor forest management.
“I see again, the forest fires are starting. They’re starting again in California,” he said at a political rally in Pennsylvania on August 20.
“I said you’ve got to clean your floors. You’ve got to clean your forests. There are many, many years of leaves and broken trees and they’re like, so flammable. You touch them and it goes up.
“Maybe we’re just going to have to make them pay for it, because they don’t listen to us.
“I’ve been telling them this now for three years, but they don’t want to listen. ‘The environment, the environment.’ But they have massive fires again.”
A few days after those remarks, the White House announced federal aid would be made available to people displaced by some of the fires.
Then, for weeks, there was silence from the President. That silence persisted until another rally on Saturday, this one held in Nevada.
“Tonight, our hearts are with all the communities in the West battling devastating wildfires,” Mr Trump said.
“The folks in Oregon, Washington – they never had anything like this. But it is about forest management. Please remember the words, very simple, forest management. Please remember. It’s about forest management, and other things, but forest management.”
Which brings us back to today. Before Mr Trump’s briefing, a reporter asked him what effect he thought climate change was having on the fires.
“Well I think this is more of a management situation,” he said.
“If you look at other countries, if you go to other countries in Europe – Australia, Finland – they’re forest nations. They’re in forests and they don’t have problems like this.
“When trees fall down, after a short period of time, they become very dry. Really like a matchstick. And they can explode. Also leaves. When you have dried leaves on the ground, it’s just fuel for the fires.
“When you get into climate change – well, is India going to change its ways? And is China going to change its ways? And Russia? Is Russia going to change its ways?”
China is easily the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide, with about 28 per cent of the global total. The US is in second place with 15 per cent, followed by India and Russia.
Mr Newsom and his officials did make a point of mentioning forest management as an issue, though like Mr Crowfoot, the governor also emphasised the role of climate change.
“We’ve known each other too long and the working relationship, I value. We feel very strongly the hots are getting hotter; the dries are getting dryer,” Mr Newsom told Mr Trump.
“Something has happened to the plumbing of the world and we come from a perspective, humbly, where the science is in, and observed evidence is self-evident that climate change is real and that is exacerbating this.
“And so I think there’s an area of at least commonality on vegetation, forest management. But please respect – and I know you do -the difference of opinion our here with respect to the fundamental issue of climate change.”
“Absolutely,” Mr Trump responded.
The President’s election opponent, Democratic nominee Joe Biden, addressed the fires from his home state of Delaware today. He labelled Mr Trump a “climate arsonist”.
“If we have four more years of Trump’s climate denial, how many suburbs will be burned in wildfires? How many suburban neighbourhoods will have been flooded out? How many suburbs will have been blown away in superstorms?” Mr Biden said.
“If you give a climate arsonist four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised if we have more of America ablaze? If you give a climate denier four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised when more of America is underwater?
“We have to act as a nation. It shouldn’t be so bad that millions of Americans live in the shadow of an orange sky, and they’re left asking, ‘Is doomsday here?’”
Before he became President, Mr Trump repeatedly called climate change a “hoax”, and suggested it was “created by” the Chinese. He was particularly vocal about the issue in 2014, when the US suffered a particularly cold winter.
“I’m not a believer in man-made global warming,” he said during the Republican presidential primaries in September of 2015.
“It could be warming, and it’s going to start to cool at some point. And you know, in the early, in the 1920s, people talked about global cooling.
“They thought the Earth was cooling. Now it’s global warming.
“But the problem we have – and if you look at our energy costs and all of the things we’re doing to solve a problem that I don’t think, in any major fashion, exists.”
A few months later, in December, he slammed the Obama administration’s stance on climate change.
“So Obama’s talking about all of this with the global warming and the – a lot of it’s a hoax. It’s a hoax. I mean, it’s a money-making industry, OK? It’s a hoax, a lot of it,” he said.
After taking office in 2017, Mr Trump followed up on an election promise to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, arguing the accord was “about other countries gaining an advantage over the US”.
“We don’t want other leaders and other countries laughing at us anymore, and they won’t be, they won’t be,” he said.