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At Least 35 Dead As Wildfires Rampage Along The West Coast

A firefighter sprays water on a controlled burn Sunday while fighting the Dolan Fire near Big Sur, Calif. Millions of acres have burned in California and neighboring states this year.
Nic Coury
Bloomberg via Getty Images
A firefighter sprays water on a controlled burn Sunday while fighting the Dolan Fire near Big Sur, Calif. Millions of acres have burned in California and neighboring states this year.

Wildfires have now burned more than 4.6 million acres in 87 large fires across 10 states, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. At least 35 people have died in California, Oregon and Washington, The Associated Press reported.

Dense smoke and fog enveloped an area far beyond the fires on Monday, keeping temperatures cooler but also creating new hazards in an ongoing catastrophe, with reduced visibility and a high risk of smoke inhalation.

In Oregon, the blazes stretch from the southern border along the coast all the way up to Portland's suburbs, Oregon Public Broadcasting's Rebecca Ellis toldNPR's Morning Edition on Monday. Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes.

"The 16 large fires in Oregon total about 878,000 acres of fire, while the 13 large fires in Washington are at about 676,000 acres," according to the Bureau of Land Management office for those two states.

There's concern thattwo of the biggest blazes threatening cities and towns near Portland — the Beachie Creek and Riverside fires — will combine in the coming days. All of the state's forests are classified as being in "extreme fire danger."

In Oregon and Washington, some 8,651 personnel are fighting wildfires, the U.S. Forest Service's Pacific Northwest regional office says.

In California, nearly 16,500 firefighters are grappling with 28 major wildfires, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire.

So far in 2020, "wildfires have burned over 3.2 million acres in California, which is larger than the State of Connecticut," Cal Fire says.

President Trump traveled to McClellan Park, Calif., on Monday afternoon, landing at a former air base near Sacramento to meet with Gov. Gavin Newsom and other officials.

"We feel very strongly the hots are getting hotter, the dries are getting dryer," Newsom said as he stood alongside Trump, according to a pool report. "Something has happened to the plumbing of the world and we come from a perspective, humbly, that we assert the science that climate change is real."

Newsom added, "Please respect the difference of opinion out here with respect to the fundamental issue of climate change."

To that, Trump replied, "Absolutely." But the president later predicted that temperatures would begin to get cooler, according to the pool report: "Just watch. I don't think science knows actually."

Trump's visit follows a campaign event in Nevada, including an indoor rally in a Las Vegas suburb in defiance of a state restriction on gatherings of more than 50 people due to COVID-19.

On Sunday, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee called the rampaging wildfires "apocalyptic."

"The only moisture in eastern Washington was the tears of people who have lost their homes and mingling with the ashes. And now we have a blow torch over our states in the West, which is climate change," Inslee saidon ABC's This Week With George Stephanopoulos.

"It is maddening right now when we have this cosmic challenge to our communities, with the entire West Coast of the United States on fire, to have a president to deny that these are not just fires, these are climate fires," Inslee said. "If this is not a signal to the United States, I don't know what it will take."

The National Weather Service warns of "critical fire weather" in southern Oregon and adjacent portions of Northern California and northwest Nevada as well as parts of eastern Idaho and southwest Montana. The fire-friendly weather is the result of warm, dry and breezy conditions.

In recent years, scientists have linked an increasing prevalence and intensity of wildfires to climate change.

"CO2 is increasing the temperature. As a result, the temperature is accelerating the evaporation of water," climate scientist Camilo Mora of the University of Hawaii recently told NPR. "The evaporation of water leads to drought that in turn leads to heat waves and wildfires."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.