The Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Kamala Harris met with service personnel for an assessment of the wildfires on a visit to Fresno Tuesday.
Through smoked-filled skies, Harris arrived at the Fresno Yosemite International Airport at 11 a.m. Her first stop: Pine Ridge School in the eastern Fresno County foothills town of Auberry.
The California Senator met Governor Gavin Newsom at the elementary school at 12 p.m. where they were briefed by Sierra National Forest Supervisor Dean Gould on the Creek Fire’s spread. Cal Fire Unit Chief Mark Johnson and Fresno County Supervisor Nathan Magsig, whose district is largely affected by the fire, were also there to explain the local response to the fire.
With a melted playground behind them, Harris spoke about the connection between environmental justice, public health, the economy and the climate crisis.
“The governor and I have visited these scenes too many times,” she said. “Sadly these wildfires and the devastation they cause are utterly predictable.”
She said that this should not be a partisan issue.
“Look at seniors. Look at children who cannot, throughout California right now, because of the smoke, leave their homes,” Harris said amid falling ashes. “This is a public health crisis, the climate crisis.”
Newsom and Harris then made their way to Clovis North High School which has served as an evacuation center for Fresno County residents since the start of the fires. There, Linda Duchene, the deputy director of Fresno County’s Department of Social Services, explained the services being provided at the center.
In an emotional moment, a Red Cross volunteer, helping with outreach to Spanish-speakers affected by the fire, shared with Harris why she spends 15 hour days volunteering.
“I am from Venezuela so I know the necessities and now is my time to give back to this country,” Mary Bastos said. “So [working with] American Red Cross is my way to give back.”
Harris thanked Bastos and the other volunteers for their contributions.
“I know you're helping people you've never met before, people you may never meet again, people who may never know your name,” she said. “And you're doing so much to take care of them and lift them up.”
Over 40,000 people have had to evacuate from their homes. As of Tuesday morning, the Creek Fire had burned over 220,000 acres in 11 days making it the 12th largest fire in California’s history, according to Cal Fire.The blaze has destroyed 555 structures, including dozens of homes.
Before heading back to the airport, Harris and Newsom made an unexpected stop at Fresno Fire Station Number 11 to bring boxes of brown paper bags filled with tri-tip sandwiches and fries to firefighters. Outside of the fire station, 30 demonstrators held Trump flags.
“What’s causing these fires is bad forest management,” demonstrator Melanie Koons said. “Loggers should have been working 24/7, 365 days to get those trees out.”
Koons said she doesn't think climate change plays that big of a factor in the increased amount of fires ravaging California’s forests.
But Harris said science tells us otherwise.
“It is incumbent on us, in terms of the leadership of our nation, to take seriously the extreme changes in our climate.” Harris said. “And do the work of ensuring that we mitigate the damage that extreme climate has caused.”
Shortly after, Harris headed off to the airport, where she took off around 3:30 p.m.