- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 17, 2018

President Trump said Saturday that poor forest management is partly to blame for the “total devastation” from massive wildfires in California that have killed dozens of residents and destroyed more than 10,000 homes.

Touring devastated communities in northern California, Mr. Trump said the fires haven’t changed his skepticism about climate change as a cause. He repeated his belief that inadequate forest management is the main culprit.

“Right now that seems to be a very big problem,” the president said. “It’s like total devastation.”

He referred to the fire as “the monster.”

At a fire command center, state officials briefed the president about the extent of the fires, which swiftly scorched nearly a quarter of a million acres and killed at least 71 residents. Officials say more than 1,000 people are still unaccounted for.

“People got out of the car and a lot of them just ran,” the president said during the briefing.

A fire official replied, “I don’t know what was going through their mind to make them make that decision.”

In Paradise, California — a community of 27,000 that was completely destroyed — the president’s motorcade pulled into a mobile home park where almost nothing was left. Mr. Trump stopped in front of an American flag hanging from what remained of a burned structure and walked between blackened ovens and burned-out cars.

“Hopefully this is going to be the last of these because this was a really, really bad one,” the president said. “This is very sad to see. Right now we want to take care of the people who have been so badly hurt.”

Although construction crews and first responders wore masks in the smoky conditions, the president and his aides did not. Mr. Trump said the first responders are “out there fighting, and they’re fighting like hell.”

“As far as the lives are concerned, nobody knows quite yet,” the president said.

Air Force One landed in a smoky haze at Beale Air Force Base in northern California, where Mr. Trump was greeted by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown and Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom. There was a strong smell of smoke as travelers emerged from the presidential aircraft.

The wind-driven “Camp” fire in northern California is now 55 percent contained. The fires have destroyed more than 12,000 structures and forced the evacuation of about 272,000 residents.

More than 9,000 firefighters are battling the blazes, which have created unhealthy air quality across large swaths of the state.

The president has toned down his recent criticism of California officials for poor forest management. But he said Saturday, “Everybody now knows that this is what we have to be doing. It should have been done many years ago. It’s a big issue, a very expensive issue, but very, very inexpensive when you compare it to even one of these horrible fires. And we’ll save a lot of lives.”

Among the California lawmakers flying with the president were House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Republican Rep. Doug LaMalfa.

“The president wants to get something done on this,” Mr. LaMalfa told reporters. “We need to be a lot more aggressive.”

He said that forest management does not mean clear-cutting, but rather thinning and creating buffers around populated areas.

“Without forest management, things can go wrong,” he said.

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