Donald Trump flew to California this morning (Nov. 17) to survey damage from the Camp Fire, which has ravaged parts of the state in the past week, leaving more than a thousand people missing.
Speaking to press alongside governor-elect Gavin Newsom, Trump reiterated the idea that improper forest management had contributed to the fires.
“You gotta take care of the floors. You know the floors of the forest, very important,” he said before mentioning a conversation with Finnish president Sauli Niinistö. “They spent a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things and they don’t have any problem.”
When Trump tweeted earlier this week that poor forest management was the cause of the fires—and threatened to withhold federal funds—firefighting associations and unions were quick to rebut his opinions.
“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,” Brian K. Rice, president of the California Professional Firefighters, told CNN.
Finland does have a remarkably low rate of forest fires. In 2017, fires burned only 470 hectacres in Finland, while this summer fires have burned more than 25,000 hectacres of its neighboring Sweden. Some ecologists argue that Finland actually has too few forest fires.
But the reason for Finland’s low fire rate isn’t necessarily its forest maintenance: The country’s roads, fragmented forest ownership, and numerous wetlands and bodies of water help block the spread of forest fires, according to the Finish Fire Service.
Meanwhile California has seen extremely dry conditions, and Santa Ana winds have helped spread flames and keep rain from the Pacific at bay. While fires are a natural occurrence in the state, scientists believe climate change has helped make California a tinder box for its record-setting conflagrations, acting as a “threat multiplier.”
The US president has, for his part, long expressed doubts about climate change.