WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Harry Reid stood firm on Thursday, urging that climate change be accepted as a reality and a cause of fires that are scalding the West.
“Talk about climate change as it really exists, not beat around the bush,” Reid said as he called for the government to step up spending on fire prevention.
“I am not going to beat around this,” Reid said at a news conference. “The West is being devastated by wildfires. Millions of acres are burning. Millions of acres have been burned.
“Why? Because the climate has changed. The winters are shorter. The summers are hotter. The moisture patterns have changed.”
The Nevada Democrat elaborated on comments he made Wednesday to several Nevada reporters in which he blamed climate change for the fire that consumed 28,000 acres and forced hundreds of residents from their homes in the Spring Mountains outside Las Vegas.
“I could be wrong, but I don’t think we’ve ever had a fire in the Spring Mountains, (Mount) Charleston range like we just had,” he said.
The Senate leader’s remarks lit a blaze on the Internet, where some commenters sought to characterize his link of climate and fire as a Reid-gaffe.
While scientists and officials say there is a connection, there is not universal agreement, and climate change generally remains a controversial topic.
Reid on Thursday wanted to emphasize his views. The National Journal reported Reid’s spokeswoman included a copy of a Las Vegas Review-Journal story about Reid’s climate remarks in an emailed invitation to his press availability.
“I am very confident if you asked him a follow-up he would give you a good answer,” his spokeswoman said in the email.
A reporter asked Reid about it near the end of his news conference.
“I’m glad I waited for your question,” Reid said as he stressed his view on climate and that “we have to address our ability to prevent some of these fires.”
While it might remain controversial in some circles, there is no question to top federal officials as to whether climate change figures into fires that are becoming larger and more complex.
“The fire seasons are hotter, drier and longer, and from everything we see this is not going to be changing,” U.S. Forest Service chief Thomas Tidwell told senators at a June 4 natural resources hearing.
While an abundance of brush and dead trees provides fuel that feeds major blazes, “the other thing that is really driving this is the changing climate we are dealing with today,” Tidwell said.
“The fire seasons are over 60 days longer than when I was a firefighter, snow melts earlier, fields dry out that much faster, and two more months of the fire season is driving a lot of the conditions we are faced with.”
Statistics kept by the National Interagency Fire Center, which coordinates federal agencies that fight wildfires, show that there have been fewer fires and acres burned this year to date than in previous years.
Robin Broyles, a spokeswoman for the center, said Thursday that largely is because the early-year fire season in states east of the Mississippi River was not as severe this year. Fire season in the West generally lasts from June to mid-September.
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC.