After Trump Criticizes Wildfire Management, California Governor-Elect and Firefighters Speak Out

by | November 12, 2018

By Marilyn Kalfus and Sean Emery

President Donald Trump on Saturday threatened to withhold federal payments to California, saying "There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires" and calling its forest management "so poor."

His early morning Twitter attack as fires raged out of control, deaths were announced and more than 300,000 people were evacuated from their homes drew strong reaction from leaders, celebrities and residents throughout the state.

"The president's message attacking California and threatening to withhold aid to the victims of the cataclysmic fires is Ill-informed, ill-timed and demeaning to those who are suffering as well as the men and women on the front lines," California Professional Firefighters President Brian K. Rice said in a statement.

The organization represents more than 30,000 frontline first responders.

"At this moment, thousands of our brother and sister firefighters are putting their lives on the line to protect the lives and property of thousands. Some of them are doing so even as their own homes lay in ruins," Rice said. "In my view, this shameful attack on California is an attack on all our courageous men and women on the front lines.

"The president's assertion that California's forest management policies are to blame for catastrophic wildfire is dangerously wrong," he added. "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. Moreover, nearly 60 percent of California forests are under federal management, and another two-thirds under private control. It is the federal government that has chosen to divert resources away from forest management, not California."

Singer Katy Perry called Trump's tweet "absolutely heartless," adding, "There aren't even politics involved."

U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, said most of the forest land in California is owed by the federal government.

"Guess who cut funding to federal management in the budget? YOU DID," Lieu tweeted.

Long Beach mayor Robert Garcia called Trump's statement's inappropriate at a time that firefighters are risking their lives, people are dying and homes are being destroyed. Governor-elect Gavin Newsom tweeted, "This is not a time for partisanship."

The Pasadena Fire Association also noted the raging fires are in so-called urban interface areas, not forest fires.

Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Steve Concialdi said he had not seen the president's tweet, but explained that large-scale blazes in Southern California are brush, rather than forest, fires.

Brush fires in the area are sparked and fed in dry vegetation that hasn't burned in years, and generally driven by the strong, often erratic, Santa Ana winds that blow through the region. The dry vegetation often directly borders residential neighborhoods, which can lead to the "urban interface" fires that lead to so much damage.

Later in the day, Trump's tweets took a softer tone, urging people to heed evacuation orders and saying "our hearts are with those fighting the fires," as well as the loved ones of those who died and residents forced to flee.

The Woolsey fire in Los Angeles and Venture counties doubled to 70,000 acres, officials announced Saturday morning. There was zero containment.

It was another challenging day. There was no word when the quarter of a million residents forced to evacuate would be able to return to their homes. A staggering 250,000 people from at least 75,000 homes were estimated to be displaced by Saturday morning.

Some 150 homes across Southern California were incinerated, including multi-million dollar Malibu mansions belonging to the rich and famous.

Nine people have been killed in the Camp Fire in Northern California's Butte County, where more than 6,700 structures were torched.

It's not the first time the president has lashed out at the state over fires.

In August, Trump blamed California's environmental laws for summer wildfires, suggesting they limited the availability of water for fighting the fires, as The Mercury News reported.

"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.

(c)2018 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)