The California wildfire disaster marked Monday a deadly milestone as frustrated calls for more aggressive forest management — led by President Trump — met with climate-change pushback from Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown.
After Mr. Trump blasted the “gross mismanagement of the forests,” prompting an outcry on the left, Mr. Brownswung back by blaming climate skeptics and calling state’s dry, warm conditions “the new abnormal.”
“We have to all do more,” Mr. Brown said at a Sunday press conference. “But managing all the forests everywhere we can, does not stop climate change. And those who deny that are definitely contributing to the tragedies that we’re now witnessing, and will continue to witness, in the coming years.”
Despite the back-and-forth, Mr. Trump approved Monday night an expedited request for a major disaster declaration, saying on Twitter that he “wanted to respond quickly in order to alleviate some of the incredible suffering going on.”
The Camp Fire that razed the town of Paradise in the Sierra Nevada foothills had torched 6,400 homes as of Monday and resulted in the deaths of 42 people, becoming the deadliest in the state’s history and passing the grisly record of 29 deaths set by the 1933 Griffith Park Fire.
Thirteen more deaths were announced Monday evening — bodies, and in some cases just charred fragments of bone, found in burned-out cars, in ruined homes or next to their vehicles apparently overcome by smoke.
The combined death toll from the six large wildfires was 44, with two deaths in Southern California. Even so, most of the blazes were still largely uncontained as firefighters girded for the fierce Santa Ana winds expected to whip through by midweek.
“We are really just in the middle of this protracted weather event and this fire siege. We are looking at dry conditions through at least the end of next week and into next weekend, even when the forecasted wind subsides,” CAL FIRE Chief Ken Pimlott at the press briefing.
More than 200 people were still unaccounted for Monday while thousands of residents evacuated, including celebrities Kim Kardashian West, Scott Baio, Caitlyn Jenner, Gerard Butler and Guillermo del Toro, as the fast-moving Woolsey Fire moved to Malibu.
About 8,000 firefighters from across the nation continued to battle the blazes that have so far consumed 325 square miles as the flames feed on the dry brush.
“The California Fire Fighters, FEMA and First Responders are amazing and very brave. Thank you and God Bless you all!” tweeted Mr. Trump on Monday.
It was the president’s foray into the clearing-versus-climate debate that inflamed Democrats and activists. In one of several weekend tweets, Mr. Trump said, “With proper Forest Management, we can stop the devastation constantly going on in California. Get Smart!”
“There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!”
Actor Leonardo DiCaprio disagreed. “The reason these wildfires have worsened is because of climate change and a historic drought. Helping victims and fire relief efforts in our state should not be a partisan issue,” he said.
California Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom accused the president of insensitivity, tweeting Saturday that this “is not a time for partisanship,” although he said nothing about Mr. Brown’s blast at climate change.
Others sided with Mr. Trump, arguing that a litany of federal and state environmental regulations have made it increasingly difficult to thin overgrown woods or clear dry, beetle-kill stands, turning the federal forests into tinderboxes.
“The president said it maybe not as well as others would have liked, but he said it: We’ve got to do things proactively to prevent this in the future,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican, on Fox News. “We’ve got to manage better rather than having these devastating fires.”
Climate Depot’s Marc Morano, author of “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Climate Change,” argued that Mr. Brown’s climate-change claim falls short scientifically.
He pointed to recent studies concluding that there is less wildfire today on the global landscape than in centuries past. In addition, the U.S. leads the world in reducing carbon-dioxide emissions.
“Wildfire frequency and intensity is linked to government policies, land use, development and water resources,” Mr. Morano said. “If you look at the climate-related factors like drought, then the case for ‘climate change’ causing more wildfires collapses even more.”
William Perry Pendley, president of the Mountain States Legal Foundation, called climate change the latest environmental “excuse” to stop timber-cutting and forest management, picking up from the Northern spotted owl decision of 1990, which decimated the Pacific Northwest logging industry.
“[T]hese anti-harvesting radicals demand ‘nature’s way’ in the management of the national forests, which means, as it did before the country was settled, periodic massive blazes to make way for a new forest,” Mr. Pendley said. “Today, however, millions of Americans live in or near where those forests will burn.”
As of Monday, the Camp Fire, which has torched 113,000 acres, was 25 percent contained and the Woolsey Fire was 20 percent contained after burning 91,572 acres, according to CAL FIRE.
Of the large wildfires, only the Hill fire in Ventura County was mostly contained at 80 percent, searing 4,531 acres so far.
• This article based in part on wire reports.