Donald Trump has again blamed California’s wildfires on mismanagement of forests, reiterating the criticism on the eve of a visit to the most devastated area of the state.
Fox News asked Trump if he thought climate change had contributed to California’s wildfires. Trump said: “Maybe it contributes a little bit. The big problem we have is management.”
In an interview scheduled to air Sunday, Trump added: “You need management,” and then said: “I’m not saying that in a negative way, a positive I’m just saying the facts.”
It echoes Trump’s tweet a week ago, in which he threatened to withhold federal payments to California and claimed its forest management is “so poor”.
Trump is scheduled to visit the devastated northern California town of Paradise on Saturday. A fire there has killed at least 63 people in the country’s deadliest wildfire in a century, and more than 600 people are missing or unaccounted for.
Trump had previously said via Twitter that there was “no reason for these massive deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor. 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!”
Firefighters in northern California had mixed thoughts on Trump’s comments but say their main focus is fighting the blaze. As firefighters returned to a command center in the northern California city of Chico on Friday after 24-hour shifts, some learned for the first time that Trump was scheduled to visit on Saturday.
The firefighter Joshua Watson said he viewed the upcoming visit as a sign of support for firefighters, “no matter what you think about him”.
Gary Jacobs, a firefighter sent from San Mateo county, said everybody had their own opinions and he stayed out of politics.
Michael Baldwin, a Cal Fire captain from Mendocino county, said Trump‘s comments that blamed poor forest management for the blaze were “ill-informed” and came at the wrong time.
Republican politicians have regularly complained that environmental regulations hamper proper management of forests, allowing flammable vegetation to build up and act as fuel for fires.
Several ecologists, however, have pointed out that “management” is typically code for logging by industry, whereby large stands of trees that would typically survive a wildfire are removed, leaving behind debris that is often more effective at spreading flames. Logging, therefore, can make forest fires worse.
Fire is a natural part of the ecology of California, helping forests clear underbrush, regenerate and spread seeds for the next generation of trees.
Human factors have changed the equation, however – California’s population is nearing 40 million, adding a more than 300,000 people a year since 2010, with many moving into and developing scenic forest areas that often burn. Experts have said this has increased the risk of deadly encounters with fire.
Trump has also been criticized for overlooking the fact that 60% of the state’s forests are under federal management. The Camp fire started on or near federal land before moving on to private property.
Brian K Rice, president of California Professional Firefighters, has said: “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 frontlines.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report