Trump’s Failures on Wildfires

Donald Trump promoted misinformation about wildfires and hurt recovery efforts during wildfire disasters.

In 2018, after California experienced its deadliest wildfires in the state’s history, Trump threatened to withhold aid and used the disaster to help logging industry allies.

Two years later, after taking days to publicly address deadly wildfires in California, Trump initially refused to grant the state an emergency declaration to respond to more deadly wildfires in the state. Despite later granting the emergency declaration, Trump blamed the fires on forest management and refused to link the fires to climate change.

During the Maui wildfires, Trump denied the connection between wildfires and climate change.

2018: Amid Deadly Wildfires In California, Trump Threatened To Withhold Aid And Sought To Exploit The Disaster For Industry Allies

Less Than A Month Before California’s Deadliest Wildfire, Trump “Seemed To Threaten To Withhold Funding To Fight Wildfires In California”

October 2018: The Hill: Trump “Seemed To Threaten To Withhold Funding To Fight Wildfires In California.” According to the Hill, “President Trump on Wednesday seemed to threaten to withhold funding to fight wildfires in California if the state doesn’t remove more ‘old trees’ from forests. ‘California’s a mess. We’re giving billions and billions of dollars for forest fires in California’ Trump said during a Cabinet meeting at the White House, shortly after Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told him about the Forest Service’s efforts to prevent fires.” [The Hill, 10/17/18

In 2018, California Experienced The Deadliest Wildfire In The State’s Modern History

2018: California Experienced The Deadliest Wildfire In Its Modern History, Killing 86

In 2018, California Experienced The Deadliest Wildfire In Its Modern History. According to the New York Times, “The inferno that ravaged the wooded town of Paradise in northern California became the deadliest wildfire in the state’s modern history on Monday when officials said they had discovered the remains of 13 more people, bringing the death toll to 42. The Butte County sheriff, Kory L. Honea, has said more than 200 people remain missing in and around the town, which sits in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada and was popular with retirees.” [New York Times, 11/12/18]

The Death Toll From The November 2018 Camp Fire Reached 86

2018 Camp Fire Death Toll Reached 86. According to the Sacramento Bee, “The official death toll from November’s Camp Fire has risen to 86, the Butte County Sheriff’s Department said Thursday.” [Sacramento Bee, 8/8/19]

Trump Said His Opinion On Climate Change Did Not Change Following The 2018 Camp Fire

Trump When Asked If The Wildfire Changed His Opinion On Climate Change: “No. I Have A Strong Opinion.” According to NBC News, “Trump was asked Saturday in Northern California whether seeing the devastation of the fires firsthand had changed his opinion on climate change. ‘No. I have a strong opinion. I want great climate, and we’re going to have a forest that is very safe. We can’t go through this every year,’ Trump said.” [NBC News, 11/17/18]

A Former Trump Official Said Trump Tried To Withhold Disaster Relief Money For California’s Camp Fire For Political Reasons

Former Trump Official In An Ad: “He Told Us To Stop Giving Money To People Whose Houses Had Burned Down From A Wildfire Because He Was So Rageful That People In The State Of California Didn’t Support Him.” According to the Los Angeles Times, “The former chief of staff at the Department of Homeland Security claims in a political ad released Monday that President Trump tried to withhold disaster relief money for California’s wildfires because voters in the state opposed him politically. ‘He told us to stop giving money to people whose houses had burned down from a wildfire because he was so rageful that people in the state of California didn’t support him and that politically it wasn’t a base for him,’ Miles Taylor, who left the Trump administration in 2019, claims in the ad.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/17/20]

2018: The Woolsey Fire Destroyed Nearly 1,600 Homes And Other Buildings And Killed Three People

Three People Died In The November 2018 Woolsey Fire

The 2018 Woolsey Fire Left Three People Dead. According to the Associated Press, “Authorities have finally surrounded a Southern California wildfire that destroyed some 1,600 homes and other buildings and left three people dead. Fire officials announced Wednesday evening that the Woolsey Fire is 100 percent contained. The wind-whipped blaze erupted on Nov. 8 and spread destruction from Thousand Oaks to Malibu, west of Los Angeles.” [Associated Press, 11/22/18

Trump Responded To The Fires By Threatening To Withhold Federal Aid And Insulting The State’s Leadership 

Trump Tweeted That He Ordered FEMA To Stop Sending Money To California “Unless They Get Their Act Together.”

2019: Trump On California After Deadly Wildfires: “Unless They Get Their Act Together, Which Is Unlikely, I Have Ordered FEMA To Send No More Money.” According to a tweet posted by Donald Trump, “Billions of dollars are sent to the State of California for Forest fires that, with proper Forest Management, would never happen. 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!” [Twitter – @realDonaldTrump, 1/19/19]

Trump Threatened To Withhold Aid From California As It Suffered The Worst Fires In Its History

Trump Tweeted That He Would Withhold Federal Aid From California If They Did Not Improve Their Forest Management. According to a tweet posted by Donald Trump, “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!” [Twitter – @realDonaldTrump, 11/10/18]

The “Fed Payments” May Have Referred To The Federal Firefighting Assistance Funds. According to Vox, “It’s not clear if ‘Fed payments’ refer to federal firefighting assistance funds, via the US Forest Service, to which the federal government recently directed additional funds for the purpose of fighting fires, to disaster relief funds promised by the White House as part of Friday’s state of emergency declaration, or to both.” [Vox, 11/10/18]

The Trump Administration Repeatedly Sought To Slash Federal Funding For Wildfire Science And Action Plans As Forest And Brush Fires Worsened

The Trump Administration Wanted To Slash Federal Funding For Wildfire Science. According to Reveal News, “Science played a vital role in this success story by helping develop the best ways to battle wildfires. But the Trump administration wants to slash federal funding for wildfire science, at a time when forest and brush fires are getting bigger, happening year-round and becoming increasingly erratic.” [Reveal News, 8/1/18]

Many Government Agencies’ Fire Research Budgets Would Take A Major Hit Under Trump’s Fiscal 2019 Budget. According to Reveal News, “The U.S. Forest Service, Interior Department, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Environmental Protection Agency and even the Defense Department have roles. Fire research budgets at these agencies, always small and declining for decades, would take a major hit under Trump’s fiscal 2019 budget.” [Reveal News, 8/1/18]

Federally Funded Wildfire Scientists Said Budget Cuts Would Endanger Lives. According to Reveal News, “Federally funded scientists have been seeking new methods and technologies to predict, prepare and respond – critical for safeguarding people and property. They have discovered ways to reduce risks before fires and restore land and waterways afterward. And they explore how fuels, flames, terrain, smoke and weather interact. Defunding those efforts will endanger lives, researchers told Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting. ‘A wildland fire (budget) cut is a human health cut,’ said Donald Falk, a University of Arizona professor who has received research funding from some of the federal programs the White House has targeted.” [Reveal News, 8/1/18]

Trump Tried To Cut Funding For State Wildfire Action Plans For Fiscal Year 2020. According to the Missoula Current, “Subcommittee chair Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, joined with vice chair Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, in opposing Trump’s proposed $948 million cut in the Forest Service budget for fiscal year 2020. […] The Trump budget makes a 16 percent cut in grant funding for state wildfire action plans, cuts research funding by $45 million and zeroes out funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.” [Missoula Current, 5/16/19]

The Trump Administration Exploited The California Wildfires To Promote The Logging Industry’s Agenda

During The 2018 Wildfires, Trump Repeatedly Called For Clearing Out The California Forests 

Trump Claimed That The California Forests Should Be Cleared To Prevent Fires

Trump Claimed That The California Forests Should Be Cleared To Prevent Fires. According to a tweet posted by Donald Trump, “California wildfires are being magnified & made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amounts of readily available water to be properly utilized. It is being diverted into the Pacific Ocean. Must also tree clear to stop fire from spreading!” [Twitter – @realDonaldTrump, 8/6/18]

Trump Claimed That Finland Raked And Cleaned Their Forests And “They Don’t Have Any Problem” With Forest Fires. According to the Guardian, “The people of Finland have reacted with bemusement on social media at Donald Trump’s assertions that the country rakes its forests to help prevent forest fires. Speaking on Saturday in Paradise, California, about the role of forest management in stemming wildfires, Trump said: ‘I was with the president of Finland and he said: ‘We have, much different, we are a forest nation.’ He called it a forest nation. And they spend a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things, and they don’t have any problem.’” [Guardian, 11/19/18

Trump Administration Sought To Expand Logging In California

The Trump Administration Used The Wildfires To Push To Reopen Logging On Public Lands, Including The Los Padres National Forest North Of Los Angeles, Claiming That Logging Would Reduce Fire Risk. According to the Los Angeles Times, “Logging has long been among California’s most divisive environmental issues — and the controversy shows little chance of cooling as the Trump administration pushes new efforts to thin forests. The federal government is moving to allow commercial logging of healthy green pine trees for the first time in decades in the Los Padres National Forest north of Los Angeles, a tactic the U.S. Forest Services says will reduce fire risk. It’s an idea President Trump appeared to endorse in tweets inaccurately linking wildfire to state water management […] The Trump administration is seeking to reopen some of the most sensitive and sought-after public lands in the state not just for timber production, but also for potential solar, wind, broadband infrastructure, mining, off-road vehicle and grazing uses. When it comes to timber, the justification is fire prevention. Environmental groups have long argued that the logging industry has used fire as an excuse to plunder forests, cutting big trees and leaving behind only small, unmarketable timber.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/7/18

December 21, 2018: Trump Signed An Executive Order Calling For Expanding Logging On Federal Forest Lands

December 21, 2018: Trump Signed An Executive Order Calling For Expanding Logging On Federal Forest Lands, Something He Claimed Would Reduce Wildfire Risks. According to the Sacramento Bee, “President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Friday that calls for expanding logging on millions of acres of federal forest lands as part of a plan to reduce wildfire risks […] Trump’s order calls for easing regulatory burdens that would allow for the harvest of least 3.8 billion board feet of timber from lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service and another 600 million board feet of timber on Bureau of Land Management property.” [Sacramento Bee, 12/21/18]

Critics Argued That His Executive Order Was A Gift To The Logging Industry. According to the Sacramento Bee, “Environmental groups blasted Trump’s order. Denise Boggs of the Northern California environmental group Conservation Congress said it ignored climate change, and didn’t address the need to thin areas directly around communities to prevent them from catching fire. ‘It won’t work, and we know that … All the fire ecologists are saying the same thing: You can’t log your way out of this situation,’ Boggs said. ‘Logging in the back country is just a gift to the timber industry.’ Boggs said environmentalists will certainly sue if Trump tries to ramp up logging. Since taking office, the Trump administration has advocated for more aggressive timber management to boost struggling rural economies and to proactively fight fires. This year, Northern California’s devastating Carr and Camp fires became the backdrop as Trump and administration officials made their case.” [Sacramento Bee, 12/21/18

Emails Revealed That The Trump Administration Exploited Wildfire Science To Promote Logging

Interior Department Emails Obtained By The Guardian Revealed That Political Appointees Sought To Play Up Climate Pollution From California Wildfires As A Way To Promote More Logging In The Nation’s Forests. According to the Guardian, “Political appointees at the interior department have sought to play up climate pollution from California wildfires while downplaying emissions from fossil fuels as a way of promoting more logging in the nation’s forests, internal emails obtained by the Guardian reveal. The messaging plan was crafted in support of Donald Trump’s pro-industry arguments for harvesting more timber in California, which he says would thin forests and prevent fires – a point experts refute. The emails show officials seeking to estimate the carbon emissions from devastating 2018 fires in California so they could compare them to the carbon footprint of the state’s electricity sector and then publish statements encouraging cutting down trees.” [Guardian, 1/24/20]

A Trump Appointee Asked Government Scientists To “Gin Up” Emissions Figures For Him To Promote “A Good Story” 

Trump Named James Reilly To Lead The U.S. Geological Survey. According to The Hill, “President Trump on Friday named James Reilly, a former astronaut and oil exploration geologist, to lead the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). At USGS, which is part of the Interior Department, Reilly would be responsible for the nation’s information on main natural resources and natural hazard.” [The Hill, 1/26/18]

Reilly Asked Government Scientists To “Gin Up” Emissions Figures In Order To Promote A Narrative Supportive Of Expanded Logging. According to the Guardian, “James Reilly, a former petroleum geologist and astronaut who is the director of the US Geological Survey, in a series of emails in 2018 asked scientists to ‘gin up’ emissions figures for him. He also said the numbers would make a ‘decent sound bite,’  and acknowledged that wildfire emissions estimates could vary based on what kind of trees were burning but picked the ones that he said would make ‘a good story.’ Scientists who reviewed the exchanges said that at best Reilly used unfortunate language and the department cherry-picked data to help achieve their pro-industry policy goals; at worst he and others exploited a disaster and manipulated the data.” [Guardian, 1/24/20]

Jayson O’Neill Deputy Director Of The Western Values Project: You Can’t Log Or Even “Rake Your Way Out Of This Mess”

Jayson O’Neill Deputy Director Of The Western Values Project: You Cannot Log Or Even “Rake Your Way Out Of This Mess.” According to the Guardian, “Jayson O’Neill, the deputy director of the Western Values Project, said the emails are another example of the administration ‘trying to find ways to tell a story to achieve industry goals.’ ‘As wildfire experts have repeatedly explained, you can’t log or even ‘rake’ our way out of this mess,’ O’Neill said. ‘The Trump administration and the interior department are pushing mystical theories that are false in order to justify gutting public land protections to advance their pro-industry and lobbyist dominated agenda.’” [Guardian, 1/24/20]

2019: Trump Threatened Again To End Federal Aid To California While The State Was Dealing With Wildfires

Days After Gov. Gavin Newsom Praised The Federal Government For Its Wildfire Response, Trump Threated To Cut Off Federal Funding For The State. According to Politico, “Just days after Gov. Gavin Newsom praised the federal government for its response to catastrophic wildfires and power outages affecting millions, President Donald Trump on Sunday slammed the California Democrat — and threatened to cut off future federal funding to the fire-battered state.” [Politico, 11/3/19]

Trump Said Gov. Gavin Newsom “Has Done A Terrible Job Of Forest Management.” According to a tweet from Donald Trump, “The Governor of California, @GavinNewsom, has done a terrible job of forest management. I told him from the first day we met that he must “clean” his forest floors regardless of what his bosses, the environmentalists, DEMAND of him. Must also do burns and cut fire stoppers…..” [Twitter – @realDonaldTrump, 11/3/19]

Trump Suggested He’d Cut Off Federal Funds For California’s Wildfires: “He Comes To The Federal Government For $$$ Help. No More. Get Your Act Together Governor.” According to a tweet from Donald Trump, “..Every year, as the fire’s rage & California burns, it is the same thing-and then he comes to the Federal Government for $$$ help. No more. Get your act together Governor. You don’t see close to the level of burn in other states…” [Twitter – @realDonaldTrump, 11/3/19]

2020: Trump Blamed California’s Wildfires On Poor Forest Management And “Matchstick Trees” And Initially Refused To Grant The State’s Emergency Declaration 

2020: California Wildfires Destroyed Nearly 1,000 Homes And Killed Three People 

September 2020: Wildfires Ravaged California, Destroying Nearly 1,000 Homes, Killing Three People, And Resulted In The State’s Largest Single Inferno. According to the Washington Post, “Fueled by extreme heat and dry, windy conditions, wildfires ravaged California in September, blazing through almost 1.9 million acres, destroying nearly 1,000 homes and killing at least three people. One wildfire, the Creek Fire, became the largest single inferno in California history and grew so fierce it spun up fire tornadoes with 125-mph winds.” [Washington Post, 10/16/20]

At First, Trump Was Largely Silent On The September Wildfires

Trump Didn’t Initially Offer Any Public Statement Of Support As Wildfires Spread In The Pacific Northwest And Northern California. According to CNN, “President Donald Trump has yet to offer any public statement of support amid historic wildfires spreading in the Pacific northwest and northern California – even though he vowed federal intervention in those states earlier this summer amid racial unrest.” [CNN, 9/10/20]

Trump Initially Refused To Grant California An Emergency Declaration

Trump Refused To Make Federal Funding Available For Areas Devastated By The Creek Fire. According to the Washington Post, “The day began with news that the Trump administration had refused to grant California an emergency declaration that would make hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding available for areas devastated by the Creek Fire and five others. Federal officials said the most recent application did not meet the criteria for federal relief.” [Washington Post, 10/16/20]

Hours Later, Trump Reversed The Decision And Approved The Declaration

Trump Approved The Emergency Declaration Following A Phone Call With Governor Gavin Newsom. According to the Washington Post, “But President Trump reversed the decision a few hours later after a direct appeal from Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) in a midday phone call. The declaration was approved, the hand-wringing over. ‘Just got off the phone with President Trump who has approved our Major Disaster Declaration request,’ Newsom said in a statement Friday afternoon. ‘Grateful for his quick response.’” [Washington Post, 10/16/20]

During His Visit To California After The Wildfires, Trump Suggested That It Would Get Cooler And That “Science” Doesn’t Know

Trump After California’s Wildfires: “‘It’ll Start Getting Cooler, […] You Just Watch. […] I Don’t Think Science Knows, Actually.” According to the New York Times, “On Monday, President Trump met with Gov. Gavin Newsom and a group of California officials in McClellan Park outside Sacramento. The California officials wore masks. The president did not. ‘It’ll start getting cooler,’ Mr. Trump said. ‘You just watch.’ Wade Crowfoot, the secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency, told Mr. Trump that he hoped the weather would, indeed, cool. ‘I wish science agreed with you, Mr. Crowfoot said. ‘I don’t think science knows, actually,’ President Trump responded.” [New York Times, 9/15/20]

Trump Blamed The Wildfires On Poor Forest Management And “Matchstick Trees”

Trump Blamed Wildfires On Poor Forest Management, Refusing To Link The Fires To Climate Change

Trump Refused To Link Wildfires To Climate Change, Instead Choosing To Blame Forest Management. According to NPR, “President Trump says the solution for fires in the West is simple; the answer is better forest management. Trump visited California today as the state’s largest fire in recorded history continues to burn. He refused to link the fires to climate change, while his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, made that connection right away.” [NPR, 9/14/20]

Trump After Gavin Newsom Explained Climate Change Evidence And California’s Fires: “Absolutely.” According to the Sacramento Bee, “‘The hots are getting hotter. The drys are getting drier,’ Newsom told Trump, noting the state is also experiencing grass and brush fires in addition to forest fires. ‘Something has happened to the plumbing of the world…. We submit the science is in, and observed evidence is self evident that climate change is real… Please respect the difference of opinion out here as it relates to this fundamental issue of climate change.’ The president replied, ‘Absolutely.’” [Sacramento Bee, 9/14/20]

Trump Then Brushed Off Climate Change Concerns, Saying The Weather “Will Start Getting Cooler.” According to the Sacramento Bee, “Later, Trump brushed off concerns about climate change voiced by California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot, who said that the earth is warming. Trump told Crowfoot that the weather ‘will start getting cooler.’” [Sacramento Bee, 9/14/20]

Trump Blamed Wildfires On Dead Leaves And “Matchstick Trees” That “Just Explode”

Trump On Dead Trees Causing Wildfires: “They Become Really Like A Matchstick…. And They Just Explode.” According to the Sacramento Bee, “‘When trees fall down, after a short period of time, about 18 months, they become really dry. They become really like a matchstick…. and they just explode,’ Trump told reporters on the tarmac. ‘Also leaves, if you have years of leaves, dried leaves on the ground, it just sets it up. It’s really a fuel for a fire. So they have to do something about it.’” [Sacramento Bee, 9/14/20]

Trump Blamed California For Wildfires: “You Gotta Clean Your Floors.” According to Politico, “‘I see again the forest fires are starting,’ he said at a rally in swing-state Pennsylvania. ‘They’re starting again in California. I said, you gotta clean your floors, you gotta clean your forests — there are many, many years of leaves and broken trees and they’re like, like, so flammable, you touch them and it goes up.’” [Politico, 8/21/20]

Trump’s EPA Released A Statement Defending The Trump Administration’s Wildfire Response And Further Blaming California Officials

Trump’s EPA Said It Was Disengenous And Reckless For California Officials To Point Out The Administration’s Failures On Wildfire Response. According to a news release from the EPA, “But Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti did these efforts a disservice recently when he accused the Trump administration of putting ‘its head in the sand’ for not regarding climate change as the ultimate cause of California’s latest catastrophic wildfire season. This is disingenuous rhetoric — and reckless — because it confuses the public about the cause of the fires and how risks can be reduced. For starters, there is no evidence whatsoever that any kind of climate-change agreement signed in the past 30 years would have limited the spread of deadly fires in California this year.” [EPA – News Release, 10/27/20]

Trump’s EPA Accused California Regulatory Authorities Of Undermining Forest Management. According to a news release from the EPA, “Instead, there is ample evidence that California regulatory authorities and liability-insurance rules have undermined active forest management, including prescribed burns and tree thinning, to such a degree that it’s nearly impossible to have a ‘normal’ fire season in the state.” [EPA – News Release, 10/27/24]

Trump’s EPA Said California Leaders Failed To “Recognize The Trump Administration’s Record Of Environmental Protection.” According to a news release from the EPA, “Garcetti and Newsom, moreover, both fail to recognize the Trump administration’s record of environmental protection, reduced U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions, and concrete yet manageable steps to limit pollution. In the past three-plus years, EPA has achieved meaningful progress in improving America’s environment through practical actions aimed at achieving real results, including pragmatic climate actions.” [EPA – News Release, 10/27/24]

2023: Trump Denied That Climate Change Played A Role In The Maui Wildfires

The Maui Wildfires Killed At Least 101 People And Caused About $5.5 Billion In Damages

February 2024: The Maui Wildfires Death Toll Rose To 101. According to the New York Times, “On Feb. 13, the Maui Police Department identified Paul Kasprzycki, 76, of Lahaina, as the 101st fatal victim of the deadly blaze that swept through the historic town in August.” [New York Times, 2/13/24]

The Maui Wildfires Damaged More Than 2,200 Structures, Causing About $5.5 Billion In Damages. According to a preliminary after-action report from the U.S. Fire Administration, “On Aug. 8, 2023, wind-driven wildfires on the island of Maui destroyed more than 2,200 structures and caused about $5.5 billion in damages. The most significantly impacted area was the historic district of Lahaina, where more than 100 lives were lost.” [U.S. Fire Administration – Preliminary After-Action Report: 2023 Maui Wildfire, 2/28/24]

Trump Criticized The Governor Of Hawaii For Linking The Wildfires To Climate Change

[VIDEO] Trump On The Maui Wildfires: “The Aftermath Is Going Very Poorly With The Governor Of The Island Wanting To Do Nothing But Blame It On Global Warming.” According to Trump’s remarks in a video posted to Truth Social, “TRUMP: The aftermath is going very poorly with the governor of the island wanting to do nothing but blame it on global warming and other things that just happened to pop into his head.” [Truth Social – @realDonaldTrump, 8/14/23]

Experts Said Climate Change Played A Role In The Maui Wildfires

Experts Said Climate Change Increased The Likelihood Of Extreme Weather Events Like The Maui Wildfires. According to the Associated Press, “Experts say climate change is increasing the likelihood of these flash droughts as well as other extreme weather events like what’s playing out on the island of Maui, where dozens of people have been killed and a historic tourist town was devastated.” [Assocaited Press, 8/10/23]