Energy

ZINKE: California Wildfires On Par With The ‘Total Devastation’ Seen In Iraq

Damien Jemison/via REUTERS

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Michael Bastasch Energy Editor

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said the devastation caused by wildfires raging across northern California were “on par with what I’ve seen in Iraq” while he served as a U.S. Navy SEAL.

“The devastation in these communities, again, it’s on par with what I’ve seen in Iraq. Absolute, total devastation,” Zinke told Fox Business host Neil Cavuto on Thursday morning. Zinke recently toured areas of California devastated by fires.

“What I saw is a steel transmission power pole ripped from its foundations and cast and crushed like an aluminum beer can and those poles were designed to withstand 200 mile an hour-plus winds,” Zinke said. “Unbelievable.”

“Where the fires are, the vast majority is on public land,” Zinke told Cavuto. “So, we’re not building on public land. It’s the urban interface that causes some havoc because you have these fires coming out of the public lands that are mismanaged into areas that have communities.”

Zinke has been waging a war of words with environmentalists in the last week, blaming litigation from “environmental terrorists groups” from keep people from logging and clearing dead trees and debris that fuel fires. (RELATED: Ryan Zinke Shifts The Wildfire Debate From Global Warming To Anti-Logging ‘Environmental Terrorists’)

Environmentalists, on the other hand, largely blame man-made global warming for creating the hotter, drier conditions that allow more intense fires to spread. Activists say Zinke’s calls for active forest management are really just calls for more logging in national forests.

Wildfire experts tend to see wildfires as more complex than just blaming global warming. Land management and urban growth are also prime drivers of wildfires, since human intervention has expanded wildfire season and caused fires in places where they rarely occur from lightning strikes.

“The story can’t be a simply that warming is increasing the numbers of wildfires in California because the number of fires is declining. And area burned has not been increasing either,” University of Washington climate scientist Cliff Mass wrote in a recent blog post.

In fact, the recent National Climate Assessment special report gave “low to medium confidence for a detectable human climate change contribution in the western United States based on existing studies.”

However, Zinke did acknowledge that warmer temperatures and a longer fire season contributes to the intensity of fires, but said fuel loads on national forests and bad management play an important role.

“Temperatures are higher, the season’s longer, the drought conditions has elevated it, but you can’t ignore the condition of the forest itself,” Zinke said.

Congress passed legislation in 2018 to prevent federal officials from raiding funds meant for fire fighting. Zinke also said the Interior Department has prioritized removing fuels from public lands.

The federal government is expected to spend around $3 billion this year fighting forests fires, which Zinke argued could be better “spent repairing bridges, repairing trail systems” on public lands.

Wildfires consumed more than 5.7 million acres of land this year, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. California is the hardest hit state with more than 732,000 acres engulfed by flames so far this year.

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