President Donald Trump talks to reporters. | Anna Moneymaker-Pool/Getty Images
OAKLAND — President Donald Trump on Thursday blamed California for its raging wildfires and threatened to withhold federal money, reprising his attacks from previous rounds of catastrophic blazes.
“I see again the forest fires are starting,” he said. “They’re starting again in California. I said, you gotta clean your floors, you gotta clean your forests — there are many, many years of leaves and broken trees and they’re like, like, so flammable, you touch them and it goes up.”
“Maybe we’re just going to have to make them pay for it because they don’t listen to us,” he added.
The combination of assigning blame while fires still burn and offering questionable remedies have become as familiar to Californians as the conflagrations that ignite each year. Those fires have spurred a predictable response from the president: blame the Democrat-dominated state and then threaten to punish it by withholding money. He did so as fires burned in 2018, and again in 2019.
“I’ve been telling them this now for three years, but they don’t want to listen,” Trump said on Thursday. “‘The environment, the environment,’ but they have massive fires again.”
Those broadsides have drawn fierce criticism from opponents who accuse Trump of politicizing natural disasters that claim lives and incinerate homes. An uncharacteristically hot and thunderous weather system hovering over California in previous days caused hundreds of lightning-sparked fires across the parched state. Already, hundreds of thousands of acres have burned and forced evacuations, while a helicopter pilot died fighting a blaze in Fresno County.
Trump’s suggestions have prompted head-scratching from experts who say his prescriptions — more raking, less water released into the ocean for environmental purposes — suggest he does not understand the science of wildfires. Critics also point out that most of California’s wildlands are federally managed.
Trump said Thursday at his Pennsylvania rally that there are “forest cities” that don’t have the problems that California has, and he told supporters that he was “mocked” by California for his previous remarks about forest “cleaning.”
He was invoking his famous comments from 2018, when he visited the remnants of Paradise, a California town that suffered the state’s deadliest and most destructive fire. Back then, he said pointed to Finland, claiming its leader said the European “forest nation” had “spent a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things. And they don’t have any problem.”
Finnish President Sauli Niinistö later said he told Trump that Finland takes care of its forests but did not say anything about raking, according to CNN.
Trump’s threats have proven empty in recent years, with California officials praising the disaster assistance they’ve received from their federal partners. Just last week, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a new “shared stewardship” pact that commits the U.S. Forest Service to working with California on managing forests to reduce fire risk.
“Wildfires don’t stop at jurisdictional boundaries. As we respond to wildfires in real-time this summer, improving coordination between the major stewards of California’s forested land will help us protect communities and restore forest health across California,” Newsom said in a statement.