PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Gov. Jay Inslee said Washington has now passed 2,000 COVID-19 deaths while historic wildfires have burned more than 620,000 acres across the state.
Inslee discussed those numbers, current “oppressive” air quality and the effects of human-caused climate change in a press briefing on Monday.
Air quality in Wasington “remains unhealthy at best, hazardous at worse,” Inslee said. Air is at historically polluted levels, according to the ecology department. Inslee said data showed that last week saw more days of hazardous air quality than in any period since monitoring began in early 2000s.
Inslee said wildfires have burned more than 807,000 acres in 2020. More than 400 structures have burned to date, about half of which are homes, he said. In Central Washington, an estimated 200 miles of power transmission lines are down and many power poles have burned.
Officials are confident in their ability to contain the current wildfires and protect communities, Inslee said. Washington has freed up some resources to help other states — including Oregon — with their fire fighting efforts.
“It’s not a lot, but it is a gesture: we’re all in this together,” said Inslee.
The governor spoke about climate change and his frustrations with President Trump’s lack of urgency regarding the link between human-caused climate change and the current wildfires torching the West Coast.
“Our fire seasons are becoming more intense, it is clear,” he said.
Environmental officials say wildfire seasons are worsening due to changes in the climate, specifically decreases in humidity and drier grasslands and forests. These changes are, in Inslee’s words, “despite our investments in land management.”
“It is outrageous to me to have a president to criticize states when the president himself cut budgets that could have been used to take care of national forests,” said Inslee.
Inslee said forest management is an important part but the federal government “needs to be a better partner” to address human-caused climate change.
Washington officials say they expect more droughts and worse wildfire seasons in the future.
At his last press conference on September 11, Inslee said 14 large fires are burning in the state and are the most damaging in state history, except for 2015.
“These are not just wildfires. They are climate fires. And we can not, and we will not vendor our state and expose people to have their homes burn down and lives lost because of climate fires,” he said.
“We need to act and put people to work building clean energy jobs to fight climate change.”