US President Donald Trump visited the site on Saturday and offered his comments on prevention, but an expert told Sputnik that prevention would come from fighting climate change and building communities intelligently when they're in areas prone to natural disasters.
Meanwhile, a lawsuit in San Francisco initiated by victims of the fire alleges that state utility provider Pacific Gas & Electric is responsible for the blaze due to improper adherence to safety procedures designed to prevent fires during vulnerable times, Sputnik reported.
Officials from Cal Fire have stated the fire has destroyed 10,500 homes — most in the town of Paradise — and is only 65 percent contained. It may burn until November 30.
Radio Sputnik's Loud and Clear spoke about the ongoing disaster and the president's reactions with Fred Magdoff, professor emeritus of plant and soil science at the University of Vermont and the co-author of "What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know About Capitalism: A Citizen's Guide to Capitalism and the Environment."
Magdoff said that while some people are proclaiming "this is the new normal," the truth is that "it's going to be worse than this; it's just going to keep progressing." He said the hot and dry summer in California was "definitely part of the story" but noted that "this is only one part of the story, because there are other issues involved."
Magdoff noted other causes, including "building where they shouldn't be building" and "not having fire breaks," which he characterized as common sense for settlements in a place prone to forest fires, as Butte County is.
Fire breaks are gaps in forest or grassland where undergrowth has been removed and flammable material either covered with dirt or asphalt or plowed under. A road or river can serve as a fire break, but so can a ditch or large dead zone.
On Saturday, as Trump toured the destroyed area, including the city of Paradise, he gave his take on preventing future fires. It wasn't halting climate change, though; it was advice he claimed to have gotten from the president of Finland, where Trump said they "spent a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things, and they don't have any problem."
"You've got to take care of the floors… the floors of the forests, it's very important," Trump said.
While Finnish President Sauli Niinistö did confirm he and Trump had discussed his country's wildfire prevention methods, he denied telling Trump that raking leaves would solve things.
Finland's forestry service does clear out underbrush in order to prevent forest fires — which it does through controlled burns — but it's unclear if the method has much of an application to California's situation, where the problem is extreme dryness of climate, the Washington Post noted.
During his visit, Trump called also the town "Pleasure" and required correction by his staff during comments.
"If it could actually work is one thing, but if it could — which I don't think it can — the incredible labor involved in raking these huge- we're talking about millions of acres of forest. I mean, the whole thing is so absurd," Magdoff told hosts John Kiriakou and Brian Becker.
Magdoff noted that "prescribed burns" were one possible method of fire management, especially in an area like California, where forest fires are a part of the ecosystem. Many plants in the region, such as the ubiquitous Sequoia trees, require forest fires in order for their pinecones to open and saplings to germinate.
"But it's also an issue of where people build," he said, "and how they build — what building materials they use — and the surrounding areas. There are ways to create large fire breaks around a community, and so there are things that people can do to mitigate the problem. But the problem is going to be there, and so it's a question of either you don't build in these areas or you build appropriately and are very, very careful about the surrounding portion — the perimeter, if you will — of a built-up area and also the materials that are used and the methods used for construction."
Magdoff told Sputnik the area had been overbuilt by developers because "it's attractive for people to live in a community in the forest, or sometimes individual houses or cabins, but real estate interests really push developments in areas that they shouldn't. It's really similar to the real estate interests pushing development in lowland areas along the coast and along rivers where there's gonna be flooding… These are places that you really shouldn't be building in. Or if you're going to build, you build in a certain way, and you stay out of certain places, although you're sort of building in the neighborhood but not right next to the floodplain — obviously not in the floodplain."
"You have real estate interests that really drive these developments, and they will push it to the maximum; they will push development to wherever they can possibly develop, and if they're allowed to do it, people are going to be hurt."
Magdoff said it was incumbent upon the industrialized and industrializing nations of the world to take major steps to "ameliorate the problem of climate change, to slow it down. We need a massive program, on a global basis… to combat this. We have to stop using fossil fuels, and we have to start by reducing our use of fossil fuels immediately. I don't see any evidence that that's going to happen or that there's a will. The political reality is that the fossil fuel companies have a lot of power."