Trump visits California wildfire zones after criticizing forest management
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By Kalhan Rosenblatt
President Donald Trump arrived in California on Saturday to visit parts of the state devastated by wildfires despite criticizing forest management there just one week earlier.
Answering questions on the White House Southern Lawn before his departure from Washington, Trump called the fires a “shame.”
“It seems that many more people are missing than anyone thought even possible and I want to be with the firefighters and the FEMA and first responders,” Trump said.
The Camp Fire, which is burning north of Sacramento, has killed more than 70 and more than 1,000 people remained unaccounted for, although officials warned that number could contain duplicate reports.
Nov. 17, 201801:27
Trump said that during his visit to the state he would be “talking about forest management.”
“It should have been done many years ago, but I think everybody’s on the right side. It’s a big issue. It’s a big issue. A very expensive issue, but very, very inexpensive when you compare it to even one of these horrible fires,” Trump said.
After landing at Beale Air Force Base, about 62 miles south of Paradise, at 9:50 a.m. PT (12:50 p.m. ET), Trump shook hands with with Gov. Jerry Brown and Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom. He then flew to the Chico Municipal Airport to survey fire damage in the area.
Trump toured Paradise with local officials just before noon and surveyed the damage left by the Camp Fire, which is now the deadliest in the state’s history.
“People have to see this to understand it,” Trump said while speaking to reporters alongside Brown, Newsom, and Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency Brock Long at what once was the Skyway Villa Mobile Home and RV Park.
Trump said he believed this would be the last major fire in California, adding that he was committed to the state’s clean up and recovery.
“I think we are all on the same path that we have to do management, maintenance and we will be working also with environmental groups, they’ve really — I think everybody has seen the light,” Trump said.
He talked about looking to other countries like Finland on how to successfully manage California’s forests.
“This is very sad to see. As far as the lives are concerned, nobody knows quite yet,” he added. “Right now we want to take care of the people that are so badly hurt, the families where they’ve lost a lot — a lot of people have been lost.”
Trump was later asked at an Incident Command Center whether seeing the devastation of the fires first-hand had changed his opinion on climate change.
“No. I have a strong opinion. I want great climate, and we’re going to have a forest that is very safe. We can’t go through this every year,” Trump said.
In a joint statement prior to Trump’s arrival, Brown and Newsom said they welcomed Trump’s visit.
“We welcome the President’s visit to California and are grateful for the quick response to our aid requests. Now is a time to pull together for the people of California,” the statement read.
Newsom said on Nov. 9 that Trump and the Federal Emergency Management Agency had granted a request for a Presidential Emergency Declaration and federal funds to help battle the Camp and Woolsey fires.
Trump initially blamed California’s forest management, without evidence, for the fires and threatened to withhold federal funding from the state.
“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!” Trump tweeted.
The post earned backlash from California officials, first responders and celebrities.
“The firefighters and the communities in this state deserve an apology,” Brian Rice, president of the California Professional Firefighters union, said.
Trump eventually reversed course, saying that California had his full backing.
“Just spoke to Governor Jerry Brown to let him know that we are with him, and the people of California, all the way!” Trump wrote Wednesday on Twitter.
This will be Trump’s second visit to the state during his presidency.
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