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California wildfires: Trump blames forest management during tour of devastation and says ‘I want great climate’

'We’ve got to take care of the floors, you know the floors of the forest, very important'

Peter Stubley
Sunday 18 November 2018 01:14 GMT
Donald Trump on the California wildfires: 'I have strong opinions, I want a great climate'

Donald Trump insisted he had not changed his mind on climate change after witnessing the devastation caused by the California wildfires.

“I have a strong opinion,” the US president told reporters as he assessed the damage from one of the blazes that has so far claimed the lives of 71 people, while more than a thousand are missing.

“I want great climate, we are going to have that and we are going to have forests that are very safe.”

Mr Trump, who was wearing a camouflage “USA” hat, appeared to lay the blame for the fires on forest management.

“We’ve got to take care of the floors, you know the floors of the forest, very important,” he said. “You look at other countries where they do it differently and it’s a whole different story.

“I was with the president of Finland and he said … we’re a forest nation, he called it a forest nation, and they spend a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things. They don’t have any problem, and what it is, it’s a very small problem.”

The president’s comments echoed his original reaction to the worst wildfires in the state’s history, when he pointed the finger at “gross mismanagement” for the catastrophic wildfires and threatened to withhold federal aid.

Authorities are still trying to locate more than 1,000 people as more than 5,500 fire personnel battle the Camp Fire which covers 228 square miles and is 50 per cent contained.

Mr Trump arrived in California on Saturday to be met by Democrat governor Jerry Brown, governor-elect Gavin Newsom, also a Democrat, and the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema), Brock Long.

The president took a helicopter tour en route to Chico before being given a tour of the town of Paradise.

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Surrounded by scorched trees, burnt-out buses and cars, crumbling foundations of wrecked houses and a Mickey Mouse lawn ornament, Mr Trump referred to the wildfire which began on 8 November as “this monster”.

“We’re going to have to work quickly ... hopefully this is going to be the last of these because this was a really, really bad one," he said.

“I think everybody’s seen the light and I don’t think we’ll have this again to this extent.”

After viewing what remained of the Skyway Villa Mobile Home and RV Park, he said: ”I think people have to see this really to understand it.”

The president later toured an operation centre, met with response commanders and praised the work of firefighters, law enforcement and representatives of Fema.

Donald Trump views the damage from wildfires with California governor Jerry Brown and Jody Jones, the mayor of Paradise (AFP/Getty) (AFP/Getty Images)

“They’re out there fighting and they’re fighting like hell,” Trump said of the first responders. ”We’ve never seen anything like this in California. It’s total devastation.”

Before leaving the area he said he planned to discuss forest management with the Democrat governor and governor-elect. “The one thing is that everybody now knows that this is what we have to be doing and there’s no question about it,” he said.

“It should have been done many years ago, but I think everybody’s on the right side.”

Governor Brown is a fierce advocate of addressing climate change, but did not respond to the president’s comments.

“If you really look at the facts, from a really open point of view, there are a lot of elements to be considered,” Mr Brown said.

“The president came, he saw and I’m looking forward over the next months and beyond to really understand this threat of fire, the whole matter of drought and all the rest of it. It’s not one thing, it’s a lot of things and I think that if we just open our minds and look at things we’ll get more stuff done.”

In a Fox News interview due to air on Sunday, Mr Trump accepted that ”maybe it [climate change] contributes a little bit,” before adding. “The big problem we have is management.”

The president was due to return to Washington on Saturday night after meeting the victims of the shooting at the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks, California, on 7 November.

Additional reporting by Associated Press

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