Trump surveys the damage from wildfire in California
President tours area after blaze in N. Calif. killed 76
PARADISE, Calif. — Viewing the destruction of a wildfire that has killed more than 76 people, with 1,276 others still unaccounted for, President Donald Trump vowed Saturday to help California recover from the devastation and work to prevent future catastrophic blazes.
Trump toured the rubble of Paradise, where more than 10,000 structures were lost, with Gov. Jerry Brown and Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom.
Trump said he was stunned by the level of destruction.
“Hopefully, this will be the last of these, because it was a really, really bad one,” the president said. “People have to see this to really understand it.”
Hours later and hundreds of miles to the south, Trump found similar signs of devastation in the seaside conclave of Malibu, one of the areas of Southern California ravaged by wildfires. Palm trees stood scorched and some homes were burned to the ground on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Although Trump and Brown have strong political differences, they struck a chord of unity. Trump praised the state’s first responders and said he had productive discussions with Brown and Newsom.
The president also avoided his criticism of California’s fire and forest management that sparked controversy last weekend, even suggesting there was common ground on how to proceed.
“We do have to do management, maintenance. We’ll be working also with environmental groups,” Trump said.
Asked in Paradise about whether his views on climate change had shifted, the president said no: “I have a strong opinion; I want great climate.”
Brown said the road ahead will be challenging. “It’s a big massive cleanup after a massive tragedy,“he said. “Somehow we will pull through it together.”
The president arrived in Southern California on Saturday afternoon for a similar tour of devastated areas in and around Malibu and Thousand Oaks. The Camp fire in Northern California and the Woolsey Fire in the south combined have burned more than 250,000 acres and destroyed more than 10,000 structures.
Trump was roundly criticized last week for erroneously blaming the fires on poor forest management and threatening to cut off funding to California.
“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,” he tweeted then.
But in recent days, the president has offered more conciliatory comments, saying Tuesday, “We mourn for the lives lost and we pray for the victims of the California wildfires.”
Trump continued to talk about forest management while in California on Saturday. “We’ve got to take care of the floors, you know the floors of the forest. It’s very important,” he said.
He also alluded to Finland, saying that country focuses “on raking and cleaning. They don’t have any problem.”
The reference to Finland puzzled some, because its ecosystem is so different that that of California.
On Saturday afternoon, a long line formed outside a Los Angeles County courthouse in Malibu that was converted into a Woolsey Fire disaster center before the doors were set to open at 1 p.m. Dozens of federal, state and local agencies set up tables inside to help residents get help.
Steven Cordrey, 52, stood nearby. Cordrey lost his house in the 1994 Malibu fires but said this time was worse because he has not been able to get any information about his house.
“It’s 2018!” he said, his voice shaking with emotion. “This is a travesty. We have not been allowed in (his neighborhood) for nine days. We’re treated like criminals when I go to checkpoints to ask.”
In Butte County, the remains of five more people were found Saturday, and the number of people unaccounted for jumped from 631 to 1,276 as authorities continued to comb through 911 calls, emails and other reports of missing people.
Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said, however, that the list of the missing is dynamic and may include people who were counted twice, whose names were misspelled or who may not know they were reported missing.
The Camp Fire, already the state’s worst fire on record, has burned 146,000 acres and destroyed 12,263 structures, officials said, adding that it could take weeks to complete the search for victims and identify them. Thousands of residents are without homes and living in shelters and tent cities.
The Woolsey Fire in Southern California has burned more than 500 structures and killed three people.
For Trump, it was a day to comfort a state grieving from twin tragedies, wildfires in Northern and Southern California as well as a mass shooting Nov. 7 at a popular college bar north of Los Angeles.
Trump said he would meet with people impacted by the shooting at the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks before returning to Washington.
President Donald Trump surveys damage from the Camp Fire on Saturday while flanked by, from far left, California’s Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom and FEMA’s Brock Long and, on the right, Paradise Mayor Jody Jones and Gov. Jerry Brown.