In response to the raging brush fires ravaging Southern California, President Trump on Friday approved an emergency measure to provide federal funds to help combat the blazes. But in a tweet fired off the following day, Trump threatened to withdraw the aid, blaming the state’s alleged poor “forest management” for the destruction.
“There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor,” Trump tweeted Saturday. “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!”
There is 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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 10, 2018
Although Trump later tweeted a conciliatory message to firefighters battling the blazes, it didn’t stop a wave of backlash across social media, slamming the president for seemingly blaming Californians for a natural disaster they had no control over.
In addition to the usual outrage disseminated by various celebrities and political figures on social media, California firefighters shared their thoughts about the president’s words. In a tweet from Pasadena Firefighters Association president Scott Austin, he told Trump, “with all due respect, you are wrong.”
“The fires in So. Cal are urban interface fires and have NOTHING to do with forest management,” he wrote. “Come to SoCal and learn the facts & help the victims.”
Also speaking out was California Firefighters Union president Brian Rice, who told NBC News that firefighters “and the communities in this state deserve an apology” from Trump.
In a subsequent interview with local news outlet KCRA3, Rice got a little more specific.
“You’re an idiot,” Rice said, referring to Trump. “And you should have never said that, and you should take the time before you speak. Words are very powerful.”
Rice acknowledged that some people listening to his words might be offended, but that didn’t concern him.
“Our members are on the front lines, risking their lives, as we expect them to,” he continued. “And the least we could expect from our leaders at not only the state level, which we get, but certainly at a national level … we don’t need a pat on the back, but acknowledge the state — the state of California is going through hell right now, literally.”
We just talked with Brian K. Rice, the president of @CAFirefighters about the President Trump's tweet. Here's what he said when I asked him what he would say to the President. pic.twitter.com/2HEmEtkoG2
— Emily Maher (@EmilyMaherTV) November 11, 2018
Contrary to Trump’s claim, experts say that “forest management” was not a factor in what are now being called California’s two most destructive fires: the Camp, which burned more than 6,000 structures this week in the town of Paradise, and the Tubbs fire last year, which burned parts of Napa, Sonoma, and other counties in Northern California.
From the Los Angeles Times:
Forest thinning would not have stopped the Camp or the Tubbs. Fueled by dry grass growing amid scattered pine and oak trees, the Camp tore across land thinned by flames just 10 years ago. The Tubbs burned grassy oak woodlands, not timber land.
Update, 11/12/18: In a post to the CPF (California Professional Firefighters) website this Monday, Rice expanded his critique of Trump’s comments. You can read the full text of his statement below:
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.
At a time when our every effort should be focused on vanquishing the destructive fires and helping the victims, the president has chosen instead to issue an uninformed political threat aimed squarely at the innocent victims of these cataclysmic fires.
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. 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. 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 one-third under private control. It is the federal government that has chosen to divert resources away from forest management, not California.
Natural disasters are not “red” or “blue” – they destroy regardless of party. Right now, families are in mourning, thousands have lost homes, and a quarter-million Americans have been forced to flee. At this desperate time, we would encourage the president to offer support in word and deed, instead of recrimination and blame.
Featured image via screen grab/YouTube