President Trump is again blaming California’s 2018’s devastating wildfires on forest mismanagement and threatening to withhold FEMA funds from Camp Fire victims.
In a Wednesday morning tweet, Trump said the fires that killed more than 90 people last year would not have happened had the state’s forests been properly managed.
It wan’t the first time the president blamed California officials for mismanaging forests, which led to fires that burned hundreds of thousands of acres in 2018.
Just after the Camp Fire in Butte County broke out Nov. 8, Trump sent out a tweet blaming the fires on forest mismanagement in California.
Critics, however, pointed out much of the acreage burned was on federally managed land.
The largest blaze in state history, the 410,200-acre Ranch Fire, this past summer burned on large swaths of land managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management in Mendocino and nearby counties north of San Francisco.
In fact, six of California’s 16 most destructive wildfires in the past 25 years — in terms of structures destroyed — occurred on federal lands, according to California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection records.
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In Shasta County, last summer’s 229,650-acre Carr Fire started on National Park Service lands before spreading to private property and eventually into the city of Redding.
The Hirz and Delta fires also burned mostly Forest Service lands in Shasta County just after the Carr Fire died down. Between the two, they consumed 109,500 acres, according to Cal Fire.
Even the Camp Fire, which has become the most destructive fire in the state’s history, started either on or very close to the national forest before spreading to private property to the west.
In November, however, as the death toll rose and damage estimates came in from the Camp Fire, Trump threatened in his tweet to withhold federal aid to California until forest management is improved.
“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!”
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‘It’s an ignorant statement’
Cal Fire spokesman Scott McLean said then that he didn’t want to address the president’s tweet, except to say it raised questions about what areas the president was talking about.
“We have things to do right now,” he said of the fires burning out of control around the state, including the Camp Fire.
Critics on Twitter questioned whether Trump could legally withhold FEMA money that has been appropriated.
State officials accused Trump of playing politics with the California wildfires and said he does not understand the issues involved in fighting fires. They questioned whether Trump is going after California because it is a Democratic state.
Brian Rice, president of the California Professional Firefighters, cited the damage in and around Paradise, California. He told USA Today that Butte County residents “have only begun to be able to rebuild their lives. … Now, they find themselves being used as pawns in the president’s ill-informed chest-pounding at their expense.”
Rice said Trump is wrong to blame the fires on state forest management.
“While forest health can be a contributing factor in large fires,” he noted, “more than 60 percent of these forests are controlled by the federal government, not California.”
The Ranch Fire, which burned 410,203 acres north of Clear Lake, consumed mostly Forest Service and BLM land.
The Camp Fire, which started Nov. 8 within or near the Forest Service boundary, burned 153,336 acres. Most of the area burned, however, was outside the national forest.
When Trump blamed California’s management of the forests for the wildfires in his Nov. 10 tweet, the Camp Fire had tied a 1933 blaze in Los Angeles as the deadliest wildfire in the state’s history, with 29 people killed. At the time, it already was by far the most destructive with 6,713 buildings torched.
The fire has since become the deadliest, with at least 86 people killed. A total of 18,804 structures were destroyed, and of those, about 14,000 were homes.
The largest wildfires in California history
Another way to look at the scale of wildfires is acreage, rather than structure loss. In November, nine of the state’s largest fires burned in the past 20 years and all of those within large sections of federal land, according to Cal Fire records. Most of those large fires included some mix of federal and private land.
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While the largest fires happened predominantly on federal lands, the majority of the most destructive fires burned across private land, destroying homes and businesses, according to state and federal records.
It is not surprising that most of the large fires happen on federal land, Rice has said, considering 60 percent of California is under some type of federal land management.
Rice said in an earlier interview that he would like to see Trump focus on the families displaced by the fires, as well as the firefighters working on the blazes.
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The state’s ongoing drought and high winds are more to blame than mismanagement of the forest, Rice said. He said if there hadn’t been strong winds pushing the Camp Fire, the damage would not have been as great.
“The bottom line is this is the seventh year of the drought. The fuel moisture is at an all-time low and the wind is up,” Rice said.