SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Gazing down from Marine One, President Joe Biden surveyed miles of scorched earth slicing through dense green forests, the scars left by one of the worst wildfires to threaten California.
Firefighters were able to protect the area around Lake Tahoe, but not before the Caldor fire decimated the small town of Grizzly Flats and destroyed hundreds of homes.
“These fires are blinking code red for our nation,” the president said at a Sacramento airport after his aerial tour. “They’re gaining frequency and ferocity. And we know what we need to do.”
Biden approved a federal disaster declaration for the area Sunday, and officials warned that toxic waste runoff and sediment from the fire could threaten the watershed around Lake Tahoe.
The president’s trip to California reflects not only political imperatives — he’s campaigning for Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is trying to fend off a recall campaign on Tuesday — but also his administration’s increasing focus on wildfires. Biden has participated in regular briefings on the issue, and he’s pushing for more spending on infrastructure to mitigate climate change, which scientists say is intensifying forest fires.
“I have not seen this much attention on what I would call good forest management and wildland management as I have with this administration,” Cal Fire Director Thom Porter said. “In my 30-year career in this, I haven’t seen any attention like this.”
Newsom, who greeted Biden after he landed on Air Force One and accompanied him for a briefing on wildfires, praised his commitment with an implicit swipe at former President Donald Trump.
“We’re not sparring partners,” Newsom. “We’re working partners.”
Before arriving in Sacramento, Biden stopped in Boise, Idaho, where he became the first president to visit the National Interagency Fire Center since it was founded five decades ago.
“You know the time of the year when the air fills with smoke and the sky turns a little orange,” he said in Boise. “But that time of year is getting earlier every year.”