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President Donald Trump will travel to California on September 14 to take stock of the fires that are ravaging the entire American West. The fires have killed 27 people since the summer, burned more than two million hectares since the start of the year and forced tens of thousands of people to be evacuated.
The White House announced on Saturday that “President Donald Trump will visit California on Monday where he will be briefed on the fire situation in the state.” A visit that was eagerly awaited while millions of hectares went up in smoke this year in the American West and that 19 new victims were identified this week in the states of Oregon, Washington and California alone.
The US president is due to meet with emergency service officials on the front lines to fight fires that have already charred 1.2 million hectares in California this year, a record. Adding to the burnt vegetation in Oregon and Washington State, forest fires have consumed more than two million hectares, while the fire season does not theoretically end until November.
Climate change involved, according to experts
For local authorities as for many experts, the scale of these forest fires, which extend from Canada to Mexico, is linked to climate change, which exacerbates chronic drought and causes extreme weather conditions.
This is also the opinion of Joe Biden, Democratic opponent of President Trump in the presidential election in November, who on Saturday denounced “an existential threat”. He took on Donald Trump, a notorious climate skeptic.
“President Trump may seek to deny reality, but the facts are undeniable. We absolutely must act to avoid a future marked by an endless deluge of tragedies, such as that suffered by American families in the West today,” he said in a statement.
500,000 people at risk in Oregon
In Oregon, more than 400,000 hectares have gone to ashes and seven deaths were recorded this week. Relief has no news from dozens of other people. The threatened areas concern a total of 500,000 inhabitants in this state, and a little more than 40,000 people had actually been evacuated Friday at midday.
About fifteen families from the small town of Estacada, evacuated at the beginning of the week, found refuge in the parking lot of a university in Gresham (20 km east of Portland).
Sheltered in motorhomes, caravans or tents, they are eager to return to see if their houses are still standing. On Saturday, residents had also returned to Estacada, where a thick smoke still hung over the city and the streets were almost deserted.
Some residents, sometimes heavily armed, patrolled in search of intruders, alarmed by unconfirmed information, reporting looting in evacuated areas.
In neighboring California, the toll for the week rose to eleven victims of the flames on Saturday, including nine in Butte County alone, still traumatized by the memory of the fires of November 2018 which left 86 dead and reduced to ashes the city of Paradise. Eight people had already died in the fires in August.
The only good news of the day: what the emergency services had initially taken for a victim was in reality only a charred laboratory skeleton, made of resin.