Officials count the dead from devastating California wildfires as Trump mocks climate science

It could take months to recover all the bodies from Camp Fire.

Sheriff officers stand by as crews search for human remains in homes that were destroyed by the Camp Fire on November 21, 2018 in Paradise, California. CREDIT: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Sheriff officers stand by as crews search for human remains in homes that were destroyed by the Camp Fire on November 21, 2018 in Paradise, California. CREDIT: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

As frigid weather was forecast to grip the northeastern United States on Thanksgiving, President Trump took to Twitter to cast doubt on the reality of climate change.

Trump’s comments came as officials in Northern California were still dealing with the ongoing effects from the devastating Camp Fire. California’s climate has been changing in recent decades, which scientists believe is contributing to fires, similar to the Camp Fire, happening more frequently and growing far bigger.

On Thanksgiving eve, though, Trump chose to gleefully enter full climate-denier mode as California officials were offering sobering projections about the death and destruction caused by the devastating wildfires in the state.

Trump typed in his Tweet: “Brutal and Extended Cold Blast could shatter ALL RECORDS — Whatever happened to Global Warming?”

He also tweeted on Thanksgiving Day that the Macy’s parade in New York City was experiencing record cold.

Indeed, parts of the Northeast set record-low temperatures. But Trump’s tweet, as the president commonly does, made the mistake of looking at local weather and making broader assumptions about the climate at large.


On the same day Trump was denying the facts of climate science, officials in Northern California were explaining that it could take months before search teams can complete their work in the areas devastated by wildfires that were made worse by climate change.

California has always grappled with fires, but several factors — including hot, dry conditions exacerbated by climate change and humans increasingly encroaching on forests — have ushered in an era of unprecedented wildfires.

The Camp Fire, the deadliest in the state’s history, has killed at least 83 people and 563 remain unaccounted for. Heavy rains and the chance for flash floods are currently creating additional difficulties for crews searching in the hardest-hit area — in and around the city of Paradise in Butte County, California.

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said in a news briefing on Wednesday — the same day that Trump asked what had happened to global warming — that remains of some people might never be found. “What we’re looking for in many respects are very small bone fragments so, as we go forward, it’s certainly possible that not all of them will be located,” Honea said.

Several inches of rain are expected to fall in areas around Paradise — where most of the fatalities occurred — through at least Saturday. The rains are raising the risk of mudslides in the hilly regions.


The fire has burned 153,336 acres and, as of Friday morning, was 95 percent contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire).

The Butte County sheriff’s office is leading recovery efforts, with assistance from search and recovery teams, cadaver detection, and coroners’ units from other counties, California, other states, and the federal government.

During the wine country wildfire in California in 2017, there were initially reports of 2,200 missing people. Eventually, 24 people were confirmed dead. Most were identified within the first month, but it took as long as two months to clear all the names, the Associated Press reported Thursday.

The search for victims in and around Paradise is expected to take much longer, given the number of destroyed homes, which far exceeded the 4,600 houses that burned down in Sonoma County in the wine country fire. The Camp Fire destroyed an estimated 13,503 homes in Butte County. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

Along with searching for bodies, officials are undertaking what is described as largest single wildfire cleanup operation in state history — an effort that requires the removal of toxic and radioactive ash and debris at burned home sites.


“There is evidence from recent fires in California that homes and property destroyed by fire contain high and concerning levels of heavy metals, lead, mercury, dioxin, arsenic, and other carcinogens. Some property may have the presence of radioactive materials,” Butte County said in a statement. “Exposure to hazardous substances may lead to acute and chronic health effects, and may cause long-term public health and environmental impacts.”

Trump tweeted about a cold spell in the Northeast calling into question climate change less week after he toured the ruins of Paradise. When asked if he believed climate change had contributed to the blaze, the president said a “lot of factors” were to blame.

The president also blamed poor forest management for the California wildfires but was swiftly rebuked by state officials.

“We’re in extreme climate change,” Daryl Osby, Los Angeles County fire chief, said in response to Trump lashing out on Twitter.

The president’s comments are “very hurtful for all first responders that are putting their lives on the line to protect lives and property,” Osby tweeted.