Busting the President’s Biggest Myths About the California Wildfires

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California is no stranger to wildfires, but this week's series of fires in the Mendocino National Forest – already California’s largest wildfire on record – is set to continue for the rest of August, fire officials announced on Tuesday.

Thanks to the soaring temperatures, intense heat waves and draughts caused by climate change in California, these kinds of fires are becoming more and more common. While wildfire season used to be contained to a few months a year, it’s now a year-long threat (remember this viral video filmed this past December?).

While California Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency in the parts of California affected by the fires, President Donald Trump has taken to Twitter to address the fires.

On Sunday, he tweeted, “Governor Jerry Brown must allow the Free Flow of the vast amounts of water coming from the North and foolishly being diverted into the Pacific Ocean. Can be used for fires, farming and everything else. Think of California with plenty of Water - Nice! Fast Federal govt. Approvals.”

Trump followed up on Monday with “California wildfires are being magnified & made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amounts of readily available water to be properly utilized. It is being diverted into the Pacific Ocean. Must also tree clear to stop fire from spreading!”

The problem? Those tweets are...less than accurate. Here’s what’s really going on with the wildfires – and how you can help.

California Has Enough Water to Fight the Fires

While California has had draught problems for years (again, thank you climate change!), water shortages aren’t a problem for fire officials.

“We have plenty of water to fight these wildfires,” Scott McLean, the deputy chief at California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection told Time in an email statement on Monday.

The issue is that the fires are more severe and numerous than in year’s past, not that there’s little water left to fight them.

...And it Doesn’t Divert Water into the Pacific Ocean

Many of California’s rivers empty into the San Joaquin River Delta which, yes, does naturally empty into the Pacific Ocean. But along the way, water is diverted away from this natural course to supply other regions of California, including farmland. These diversions mean more of the state can access fresh water. It’s the opposite of diverting water into the Pacific Ocean.

Experts such as Glen MacDonald – a professor of geography and ecology at the University of California, Los Angeles – are keen to bust this myth.

“The thought that for some reason the ecological functioning or use of water by farmers in the Delta is contributing to this fire – it just doesn’t make any kind of sense, whatsoever,” MacDonald told Time.

California Already Spends Millions of Dollars to Clear Dead Trees

Trump also pointed to tree clearing as a solution to the wildfires. But California has already removed thousands of dead or infested trees over the years to help control the risk of fire. What’s more, the Mendocino Complex fire also affects regions covered with grass and shrubs – not forests full of dead trees, Time reports.

The Underlying Problem is Climate Change

The effects of climate change in California set the stage for a longer wildfire season – as well as fires that are larger and more damaging, the New York Times reports.

That means one long-term solution is fighting for an effective response to climate change and preventing these conditions from getting worse. If you want to help, write to your representatives about the need to address climate change, and seek out local activists groups to learn about demonstrations or marches in your area.

If you have the means, consider donating to a charity to help those who have been displaced or lost their property due to the fires. And read up on campfire safety if you’re camping this summer. Humans start nearly 85 percent of forest fires, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, so being smart with your campfire could save lives.

References

About the Author

Sylvie Tremblay holds a Master of Science in molecular and cellular biology and has years of experience as a cancer researcher and neuroscientist. Before launching her writing business, she worked as a TA and tutored students in biology, chemistry, math and physics.

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