As thousands of firefighters battled uncontrolled flames in both Northern and Southern California on Saturday, President Trump tweeted out an ill-informed, distorted message about the cause of these deadly autumn infernos.
But the firefighting community quickly rebutted the president’s rash claims, wherein he blamed “gross mismanagement of the forests,” while also threatening to cut federal support to fire management efforts.
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
As firefighters, fire researchers, and climate scientists largely agree, mismanaged forests — which generally means wooded areas that haven’t been allowed to naturally burn and reduce vulnerable vegetation — are just one part of a complex, growing wildfire problem in the U.S. Rather, today’s historic wildfire woes are a confluence of weather events, human-building, climate change, and mismanaged forests.
As the Pasadena Fire Association pointed out on Twitter, “Mr. President, with all due respect, you are wrong.”
Mr. President, with all due respect, you are wrong. The fires in So. Cal are urban interface fires and have NOTHING to do with forest management. Come to SoCal and learn the facts & help the victims. Scott Austin, Pres IAFF 809. @IAFFNewsDesk https://t.co/d3jY0SeosF
— Pasadena Fire Assn. (@PFA809) November 10, 2018
In Southern California, where the Woolsey Fire (as of Nov. 10 at 8:30 p.m.) had burned over 83,000 acres and forced Hollywood stars and wildlife alike to flee to the beaches, mismanaged forests are not to blame. The affected areas aren’t overgrown pine forests, but grasslands and other coastal or near-coastal shrublands, known as chaparral.
There’s nothing to log here, noted Crystal Kolden, a former wildland firefighter and associate professor in forest rangeland and fire sciences at the University of Idaho, countered on Twitter.
Right. I’m sure that there is a long list of logging companies waiting to log chaparral shrublands and oak woodlands and grasslands. The most destructive and deadly fires in CA are NOT in forests. This is grossly irresponsible and uninformed. https://t.co/mjndBhCboA
— Dr. Crystal A. Kolden (@pyrogeog) November 10, 2018
A continuing problem in Southern California, like in many Western areas, is that populations have expanded into dry areas that naturally burn, known as the urban-wildlife interface. Deadly fires often burn through these communities, as they’ve repeatedly done in California — jumping major freeways and torching suburban homes.
This requires local and political solutions, such as intelligently reducing dry vegetation near these communities, or building fire-resistant homes, fire scientist Michael Gollner explained on Friday.
Exacerbating matters, fires everywhere are now burning more land, burning for longer, and becoming more destructive — and climate change is a potent contributor. Simply put, hotter climes suck moisture out of the land, leaving profoundly dried out, tinder-ready grasslands and forests.
Although fire season should be winding down in California, a vast swath of the state is still experiencing record dryness — notably in Northern California where the Camp Fire burned people to death in their vehicles.
“This is a big deal,” U.S. Forest Service meteorologist Brenda Belongie, referring the record dryness, said Friday.
Wildfires are largely stoked by weather and gusty winds, but solving the growing problem doesn’t have a quick forest management fix, as the president contends.
For that reason, amid new fires that have killed at least 23 people, the firefighting community has found the president’s ignorant fire-messaging to be repugnant. The International Association of Firefighters, of note, offered the Commander-in-Chief some stark words:
Firefighters understand the complexity and influences of today’s flames. But their mission now is to help subdue the blazes, so firefighters haven’t tolerated President Trump’s wrong-headed, oversimplified message.
As the International Association of Firefighters said: “To minimize the crucial, life-saving work being done and to make crass suggestions such as cutting off funding during a time of crisis shows a troubling lack of real comprehension about the disaster at hand and the dangerous job our fire fighters do.”