West Coast Wildfires Smoke Reaches D.C. as Trump Dismisses Climate Change on California Trip

Smoke from wildfires in California and Oregon spread across parts of the U.S. on Monday with observers in Washington, D.C., Chicago and New York City seeing hazy skies as a result of the firest. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump told leaders in California on Monday that climate change may not have been a factor in the state's fires.

Fires on the west coast have already consumed more than 5 million acres and have resulted in the deaths of at least 35 individuals. Firefighting resources in affected states have been stretched thin by the fires which consist of more than 40 separate blazes.

On Monday, the National Weather Service in Sterling, Virginia confirmed that skies were hazy over the nation's capital because of "smoke lofted from wildfires out west being caught in the jet stream and moving overhead at about 20,000 to 25,000 ft."

National Weather Service office in Sterling, Va confirms it's smoke over DC area: pic.twitter.com/ZFzJYSQUR2

— Capital Weather Gang (@capitalweather) September 14, 2020

Skies over parts of Illinois and Indiana are also expected to have a visible layer of smoke for "several days" because of the wildfires.

Late in the day Sunday, smoke from western U.S. fires had drifted over northern IL and northwest IN and this will continue through today. This is expected to remain aloft so no impacts are forecast, but the sky will have a milky white or even gray appearance to it. #ILwx #INwx pic.twitter.com/SVtxnE0NCB

— NWS Chicago (@NWSChicago) September 14, 2020

Monday, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said that some areas in the northeastern area of the state had been placed under a Red Flag warning. "Elevated fire weather conditions are expected in portions of central and southern California due to very warm and dry conditions," read Cal Fire's statewide summary on Monday, "and smoky conditions will persist in the much of the valley areas throughout the state."

In a release sent to Newsweek on Monday, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration it was monitoring the smoke with an experimental tool called the High Resolution Rapid Refresh-Smoke model.

"Smoke affects the weather in nonlinear kinds of ways," said Michael Staudenmaier of the National Weather Service Western Regional Office in Utah. "In the old days, a forecaster would have looked at a nearby fire and made a prediction that smoke would make it, say, 2 degrees cooler during the day, and keep it 2 degrees warmer overnight. Now, the model puts those variables right into the prediction-- how much sunlight the smoke will block, how much heat the smoke will trap, so there's no more guessing."

california wildfires
A partially melted play set is seen behind the burned remains of Berry Creek School during the Bear fire, part of the larger North Lightning Complex fire, in the Berry Creek area of unincorporated Butte County, California on Monday. Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty

Reasons for the California fires have been a point of debate. California Governor Gavin Newsom has said that climate change was a major factor in the creation of the blazes. President Donald Trump said Monday that may not be the case.

"When trees fall down, after a short period of time-- about 18 months-- they become very dry," President Trump told reporters. "They become, really, like a matchstick. And they get up-- you know, there's no more water pouring through and they become very, very-- well, they just explode. They can explode."

Trump also said that leaves left on the forest fire can become "fuel for the fire."

During a briefing about the fires, Governor Newsom said that climate change had resulted in fire conducive weather. "We obviously feel very strongly that the hots are getting hotter, the dries are getting drier," Newsom said.

"And we come from a perspective, humbly, where we submit the science is in and observed evidence is self-evident that climate change is real, and that is exacerbating this," Newsom added.

California Secretary for Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot told the president Monday that ignoring the science behind climate change was tantamount to putting "our head in the sand."

"Okay," Trump said. "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch."

"I wish science agreed with you," Crowfoot responded.

"Well," Trump said, "I don't think science knows, actually."