California just had its worst wildfire season in modern history. The August Complex fire scorched more than 1 million acres last fall, making it the largest fire ever recorded in the state. More than 4 million acres burned in the Golden State in 2020, blanketing much of the region in an orange haze of ash and smoke for days on end.
As California burned, the wildfire crisis became engulfed in election-season politics. The issue was often portrayed in simple binary terms: Either forest management or climate change was to blame. President Donald Trump repeatedly criticized California for not doing enough to “clean” its forests, threatening at one point to reject the state’s request for disaster relief, while then-candidate Joe Biden took every opportunity to suggest that the problem was really the Trump administration’s failure to acknowledge climate change.
The politicized debate over California’s fires generated more heat than light. The focus soon became Trump’s climate-change denial and his musings about forest management rather than the reality of the situation on the ground. And it obscured a growing consensus over what needs to be done to address California’s wildfire crisis.