When Paradise became hell: The story of the Camp Fire in Northern California
President Donald Trump threatened again Wednesday to cut off FEMA wildfire relief to California because of its “disgraceful” mismanagement of the state’s forests.
It wasn’t the first time Trump has threatened to withhold funding from California, saying the state’s disastrous string of wildfires the past two years are largely the result of environmental regulations preventing proper forest management. The president’s latest statement came a day after California Gov. Gavin Newsom praised him for his quick response to the Camp Fire catastrophe.
In an early-morning tweet, Trump scolded California’s forest management and added, “Unless they get their act together, which is unlikely, I have ordered FEMA to send no more money. It is a disgraceful situation in lives & money!”
Newsom replied on Twitter: “Disasters and recovery are no time for politics. I’m already taking action to modernize and manage our forests and emergency responses. The people of CA — folks in Paradise — should not be victims to partisan bickering.”
Trump’s tweet ignores the fact that nearly 60 percent of California’s forests are on land owned by the federal government, mainly the National Forest Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The Camp Fire — which killed 86 people, more than any other in the state’s history — appears to have started in the Plumas National Forest.
FEMA has disbursed nearly $56 million to Camp Fire survivors and has been working with state officials on plans to remove debris from Paradise, which was virtually destroyed by the fire.
The Republican congressman who represents the Camp Fire region, Doug LaMalfa, said he shares Trump’s “great frustration with California’s choking regulations” but pushed back on the president over the timing of his tweet.
“The immediate problem for fire victims is the first need, and threats to FEMA funding are not helpful and will not solve the longer term forest management regulatory problems,” the Richvale Republican said in a prepared statement.
“The President has seen first-hand our fire-ravaged areas in Northern California,” LaMalfa added. “He made the promise to help, and I expect him to keep it.”
Trump’s administration has said repeatedly that California’s wildfires are evidence that forests must be managed more aggressively, through “thinning” and prescribed burns to reduce fuel loads.
California officials generally agree; the Legislature last fall earmarked $1 billion over five years for forest management, while Newsom on Tuesday called on lawmakers to put an additional $105 million into the budget for firefighting efforts.
Speaking at a Cal Fire station in Colfax, near the Tahoe National Forest, Newsom on Tuesday chided Trump’s administration for cutting forestry budgets by $2 billion, but he also pledged to cooperate with the White House on fire-safety issues.
“He’s never played politics with disaster declarations and we’re grateful for that,” Newsom said. The two met when Trump visited Paradise a few days after the fire.
It wasn’t clear whether Trump has the power to carry out his threat without Congress’ consent. Trump has already declared a state of emergency for California’s wildfires, making survivors eligible to receive federal dollars.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, called the tweet an “empty threat” and said it “isn’t worth the time of day.” She also called the tweet “heartless.”
The state has requested an additional $9 billion from the federal government for wildfire relief, but it’s unclear how much of that money would go through FEMA.
A spokesman for FEMA, whose operations are affected by the government shutdown, had no immediate comment.