Trump blames poor forest management
With ‘no reason’ for fires, president threatens to revoke federal assistance
By Emily DeRuy
With California’s most destructive wildfire still raging, President Donald Trump on Saturday tweeted up his own firestorm, blaming poor forest management for the fires that have decimated parts of the Golden State in recent days and threatened to revoke federal assistance.
“There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor,” Trump tweeted. “Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!”
The tweet drew immediate ire on social media, with some people blasting the president for posting threats while fires across the state continue to destroy homes and take lives. Others pointed out that many forests are on federal land, and still others suggested the government should do more to address climate change, which scientists and fire experts say is a driving force behind the increase in devastating fires in recent years.
“Lives have been lost,” Governor-elect Gavin Newsom responded. “Entire towns have been burned to the ground. Cars abandoned on the side of the road. People are being forced to flee their homes. This is not a time for partisanship. This is a time for coordinating relief and response and lifting those in need up.”
And Brian K. Rice, the president of the California Professional Firefighters, which represents 30,000 firefighters and paramedics, issued a scathing statement, saying, “The president’s message attacking California and threatening to withhold aid to the victims of the cataclysmic fires is ill-informed, illtimed and demeaning to those who are suffering as well as the men and women on the front lines.”
Rice went on to say that Trump’s assertion that the state’s forest management plans were to blame for wildfires “is dangerously wrong. Wildfires are sparked and spread not only in forested areas but in populated areas and open fields fueled by parched vegetation, high winds, low humidity and geography.” He said nearly 60 percent of California forests are under federal management, and two-thirds of the balance under private control.
“Natural disasters are not ‘red’ or ‘blue’ — they destroy regardless of party. Right now, families are in mourning, thousands have lost homes, and a quartermillion Americans have been forced to flee,” Rice added. “At this desperate time, we would encourage the president to offer support in word and deed, instead of recrimination and blame.”
Fire officials in Butte County, where the Camp Fire recently became the most destructive fire in California’s history, are blaming low humidity, high winds and a lack of rain this November for helping spread the blaze at a ferocious speed. Problems with PG&E power lines may also have started the fire.
Firefighters in Southern California, where the Woolsey and Hall fires have destroyed more than 150 homes and forced more than 250,000 people to evacuate, also dismissed Trump’s argument.
“Mr. President, with all due respect, you are wrong: The fires in So. Cal are urban interface fires and have NOTHING to do with forest management,” tweeted Scott Austin, a Pasadena firefighter. “Come to SoCal and learn the facts & help the victims.”
California is ramping up its efforts on forest management. In September, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a wildfire safety bill that will devote $1 billion to reducing the risk of major wildfires across California by thinning forests and conducting prescribed burns.
Reached by phone Saturday morning, Scott McLean, a spokesman for Cal Fire, which handles forest management, said of the president’s recent tweet, “It’s disappointing that he says these things.”
Some critics who blasted Trump for playing politics in the midst of such tragedy pointed out the worst of the fires is raging in the Northern California county of Butte, where 48 percent of voters in 2016 supported Trump compared to 4 4 percent for Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton.
It’s not the first time the president has lashed out at California over fires.
In August, Trump blamed California’s environmental laws for summer wildfires, suggesting they limited the availability of water for fighting the fires.
“We have plenty of water to fight these wildfires, but let’s be clear: It’s our changing climate that is leading to more severe and destructive fires,” Daniel Berlant, assistant deputy director of Cal Fire, the state’s firefighting agency, said at the time.
During an interview with Breitbart News the same month, Trump’s Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said “environmental terrorist groups” are preventing proper forest management and dismissed the argument that climate change is a major factor behind the increase in fires.
Staff writers Lisa Krieger and Matthias Gafni contributed reporting. Contact Emily DeRuy at 408- 920- 5077.
A charred vehicle was left abandoned in the middle of Honey Run Road in Paradise on Friday.
RAY CHAVEZ — STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
President Donald Trump tweeted that “billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!”
MARK WILSON — GETTY IMAGES