WASHINGTON — As firefighters head home from Southern Nevada, U.S. Sen. Harry Reid on Wednesday blamed “climate change” for the intense blaze that consumed nearly 28,000 acres and drove hundreds of residents from their homes around Mount Charleston this month.
Reid said the government should be spending “a lot more” on fire prevention, echoing elected officials who say the Forest Service should move more aggressively to remove brush and undergrowth that turn small fires into huge ones.
“The West is burning,” the Nevada Democrat told reporters in a meeting. “I could be wrong, but I don’t think we’ve ever had a fire in the Spring Mountains, Charleston range like we just had.
“Why are we having them? Because we have climate change. Things are different. The forests are drier, the winters are shorter, and we have these terrible fires all over the West.”
“This is terribly concerning,” Reid said. Dealing with fire “is something we can’t do on the cheap.”
“We have climate change. It’s here. You can’t deny it,” Reid went on. “Why do you think we are having all these fires?”
“You can make all the excuses,” he said, such as that fires are disasters that “just happen every so often.”
Reid made the statement as the battle against the 27,881-acre Carpenter 1 Fire was coming to a close and residents and business operators in the once-threatened Kyle Canyon were allowed to return to their homes Wednesday.
The fire was 90 percent contained, with all but one section of rocky terrain no longer burning.
The fire was started by a lightning strike in Trout Canyon on the west side of the Spring Mountains on July 1.
FEWER WILDFIRES, LESS AREA CONSUMED
There seems to be conflicting information about wildfires and the conditions that are causing them.
Numbers compiled by the National Interagency Fire Center indicate there have been fewer wildfires this year than in recent years.
Through Wednesday, there have been 25,370 wildland fires that have burned 2.057 million acres, according to the center, which coordinates federal agency responses to the blazes from its base in Boise, Idaho.
Through the same date last year, there were 32,920 fires that burned 3.7 million acres.
In 2011, there were 40,736 wildfires through July 17, burning 5.9 million acres.
Reid has seen different data, his spokeswoman Kristen Orthman said Wednesday evening.
Orthman cited Climate Change, a Princeton, N.J.-based organization of scientists and journalists that has reported “there are more large fires burning now than at any time in the past 40 years.”
Additionally, she said, Reid based his view on a New York Times report this month that experts see a “hotter, drier West” as a new normal leading to huge fires.
REID: NO IMMIGRATION COMPROMISE
Besides fire, Reid talked on a range of topics during a 20-minute meeting with Nevada reporters who cover him in Washington.
The meeting came on a relatively quiet day for the majority leader of the U.S. Senate, after senators reached a compromise on Tuesday that averted what would have been a historic showdown over use of the filibuster.
On one of those topics, Reid turned his thumbs down on a suggestion the Senate might agree to a compromise with the House on immigration reform that would limit a pathway to citizenship solely to young residents who are in the country illegally, the so-called DREAMers.
The young people “are not going to be used as a pawn by the Tea Party,” Reid said, insisting the House at some point will pass a bill similar to the comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate late last month.
“I don’t know when, but they are going to pass it,” he said.
Republican refusal to pass a comprehensive bill might enable conservatives to win some U.S. House seats, “but they are dooming a Republican presidential nominee” in 2016, Reid said.
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at email@example.com or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC.