RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Ash and smoke still fill the skies from Los Angeles over to Fresno and up to San Francisco.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Yeah. More than 3 million acres are burning in over 20 separate fires across the state of California. The Bobcat Fire is actually less than 50 miles from where I am in LA. That has been raging for over a week now. It is barely contained, and that is the case with so many of the fires in California and Oregon and in Washington state. Yesterday, President Trump paid a visit to California, and California officials were pleading with him to acknowledge the reality of climate change.
MARTIN: KQED's Katie Orr joins us now from the California state capital of Sacramento. Katie, good morning. Thanks for being here. Can you just start by telling us the status of the fires?
KATIE ORR, BYLINE: Sure. We have 28 major fires burning throughout the state right now with more than 16,000 firefighters working to contain them. And we have people who've gone through these fires who are waking up to a landscape marked by worry. My colleague in Fresno, Alex Hall, spoke with Lee Zarasuwa (ph) and her husband, David. They feared their house had burned down.
LEE ZARASUWA: What can you say? It's scary, especially the first couple of days. The fire was moving so quickly that, you know, we had no idea if the house would survive. So I think that's how everyone feels. And I know there are several houses on the next street on Auberry Road that were completely destroyed.
ORR: They later learned their house was intact. To date, though, more than 4,200 structures throughout the state have burned down.
MARTIN: So David mentioned President Trump was in California yesterday talking with state officials and the press. And climate change came up as a big issue, right? Tell us what happened.
ORR: Right. I actually asked the president what role he thinks climate change plays in these fires. He insisted, as he has for years, that it's all about forest management, that years of letting the forests become overgrown and not well tended have turned them into tinder boxes. The president's argument, though, was met with resistance from officials here on the ground, including California Governor Gavin Newsom, who urged the president to reconsider his stance in light of what the state's experienced in recent years.
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GAVIN NEWSOM: The hottest August ever history of this state, the ferocity of these fires, the drought five-plus years, losing 163 million trees to that drought - something's happened to the plumbing of the world.
MARTIN: And then how did President Trump respond to that?
ORR: He didn't seem to appreciate it. In one exchange, California's natural resources secretary, Wade Crowfoot, made - repeated the central role of climate change in these fires, and Trump pretty much dismissed him, as we can hear.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It'll start getting cooler. You just watch.
WADE CROWFOOT: I wish science agreed with you.
TRUMP: Well, I don't think science knows, actually.
ORR: And it's interesting. We're less than two months from the presidential election. Joe Biden was addressing this yesterday, too, calling it a problem that requires action and, quote, "not denial." But the president's comments were not really intended for voters in California, and that's for two reasons. Everyone assumes California will vote Democratic in November. And here in the state, pretty much across the political spectrum, climate change and the science behind it are not in dispute by politicians or by voters. The president's message that California is itself to blame for the massive wildfires seems more directed at his supporters in other states. And by the way, it's worth noting that Governor Newsom pointed out the federal government owns close to 60% of the forest land in California while the state owns just 3%.
MARTIN: Katie Orr of KQED, thank you. We so appreciate your reporting on this.
ORR: You're welcome.
MARTIN: So let's stay with the effects of climate change for another few minutes because there are historic fires in the West, and there are an unprecedented number of hurricanes in the southeast.
GREENE: Yeah. That's right. There are actually four storms brewing in the Atlantic basin. Communities along the Gulf of Mexico right now are bracing for the impact of Hurricane Sally. It is forecast to make landfall either late today or maybe in the overnight hours somewhere near the Alabama-Mississippi state line.
MARTIN: We've got NPR's Debbie Elliott with us now from Orange Beach, Ala. Debbie, thanks for being here. What are the conditions right now?
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Well, we're starting to feel the outer bands of the hurricane. Sally is just offshore. That means, you know, some gusty winds, waves of heavy rain that come through over and over. Already bay waters have been rising and have overtopped some piers and flooded some roadways here in my neighborhood. I spent a little bit of time yesterday as the storm was approaching at the public beach in Gulf Shores, Ala. And there were a lot of people out sightseeing, including Mary Bell. She was on vacation from Tennessee. And she was amazed to see just how fast the water was coming up.
MARY BELL: Well, the surf is churning, and we watched the levels rise, coming closer on the beach in places where the water has gone and made its own little canal through between the condos.
ELLIOTT: Now, this is repeating itself all up and down the Gulf Coast. A large stretch from the mouth of the Mississippi to the Florida Panhandle is going to feel the effects of this very large Hurricane Sally.
MARTIN: Are people taking the threat seriously? Sounds like at least the government's making some restrictions.
ELLIOTT: Yes, definitely officials are. All the Gulf states affected have declared states of emergency. Some of the low-lying areas, barrier islands and the like have evacuated. Shelters have been opened. The National Guard is standing ready to help with search and rescue if needed and distributing emergency provisions. All along the coast, people have been trying to sort of secure their property, getting things in that might become projectiles with hurricane force winds, you know, moving boats to safe harbor, that type of thing. Here in Orange Beach yesterday, owner David Schwartz had a small crew putting up aluminum storm shutters on his restaurant, Doc's Seafood, because it's just across the road from the roiling Gulf of Mexico.
DAVID SCHWARTZ: I'm not really worried about wind or anything. I'm worried about storm surge. This water will come through here and sweep this place away like it was never here. And it's just scary when you think about it.
MARTIN: Are you hearing that, Debbie, from other people, the storm surge is the biggest threat?
ELLIOTT: Yeah. And forecasters will tell you that. Water is the biggest issue. Up to nine feet of storm surge expected. That's essentially a wall of water that can move on shore with a destructive force. Also flash flooding is going to be a real problem here because Sally is moving so slowly. So it's just soaking the Gulf Coast. It's been dumping rain on Florida for days now. And forecasters say some areas could get up to two feet of rain. That is a very significant flood risk, even well inland. So we're just watching to see what will happen.
MARTIN: And, of course, we just had hurricane Marco, Hurricane Laura. These are two historic storms that came through the Gulf of Mexico last month. Can you just put all this into perspective for us? What kind of year has this been?
ELLIOTT: It's certainly a very busy season, and there are a lot of people, 18,000 in Louisiana, still displaced from Hurricane Laura. So it's very troublesome.
MARTIN: NPR's Debbie Elliott, we appreciate it.
ELLIOTT: Thank you.
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MARTIN: All right. Today at the White House, Israel will sign diplomatic deals with two Arab nations - the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
GREENE: Yeah. And the Trump administration is framing this as a diplomatic breakthrough reshaping the Middle East. For decades, most Arab states have refused to recognize Israel and establish ties until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was settled. Well, that's changing now. Here's Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before he departed for the United States.
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PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: We are witnessing a pivot of history - a pivot towards peace.
MARTIN: So is that true? Let's talk about it with NPR's Daniel Estrin, joining us from Jerusalem. Good morning, Daniel. This is not the big peace in the Middle East result that the Trump administration wanted, right?
DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Yeah, that's right. The administration spent, you know, years developing an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, and they presented it in January. And it went nowhere. The Palestinians refused to engage because the administration has just been taking steps siding with Israel and against the Palestinians. So then the U.S. pivoted to a completely different kind of peace plan entirely, a peace between Israel and Arabs in the Gulf. And this is actually something that the administration and Israel have been pushing for a long time. Israel and the Gulf have had covert ties for a long time. And, you know, that all these countries want to counter Iran. So they're now coming out in the open with their ties. And they want to start commercial flights, open trade, open cooperation. So it is really a big change.
MARTIN: So Palestinians aren't in this deal, right? I mean, how are they viewing this?
ESTRIN: Yeah. The Palestinians are pretty stunned. There had been this longtime pact between, you know, nearly all of the Arab states that you don't make peace with Israel until Israel resolves its own conflict with the Palestinians. But now you've got these two new deals with Israel. Even the Arab League has refused to condemn this. So Palestinian leaders feel betrayed. And now the Trump administration is hoping the Palestinians see all this happening and cave and strike a deal with Israel. It's clear the Palestinians are not going to do anything until they see if Joe Biden wins the election. But Palestinian officials I've been speaking with say, you know, we're not totally abandoned in the world. They still have support from socially justice-minded Americans, they say, and a lot of Arab societies, even if their governments are changing.
MARTIN: So why not just keep the status quo? I mean, what's in it for the UAE and Bahrain to do this?
ESTRIN: They both want to curry favor with the U.S. They want to align with Israel against Iran. Specifically the Emirates is hoping that the U.S. is going to reward them and sell them F-35s, the advanced fighter jets, which is a controversial thing in Israel. Bahrain is a smaller country, but what's important is that they would not be doing this without support from Saudi Arabia. So that could be a hint of where the Saudis are eventually headed, and that's what Israel really wants, peace with the Saudis.
MARTIN: And, of course, there is an election here, and a signing ceremony at the White House makes for a good campaign ad.
ESTRIN: That's right. Trump and the Israeli leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, both need huge achievements. And Netanyahu is facing a huge crisis back home, one of the biggest new COVID outbreaks in the world.
MARTIN: All right. Daniel Estrin reporting for us from Jerusalem on the signing ceremony that's supposed to take place today at the White House. Israel, the UAE and Bahrain all signing a new diplomatic deal. Daniel, thanks. We appreciate it.
ESTRIN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.