What's happening in California is devastating. The death toll is now confirmed at 79 and the number of missing has risen to 1,247. If there were 1,247 Americans missing and presumed dead in an inferno along the Acela Corridor (where winds whipped the fires up to consuming the equivalent of more than a football field EVERY SECOND), I'd imagine it would get significantly more coverage than it did on the Sunday shows. And for those of us not directly in the evacuation zones, the air quality index in surrounding areas was actually much worse than Shanghai or New Delhi, causing a run on N-95 masks and the closing of schools to keep children and vulnerable people safe. The city of Chico, which neighbors Paradise, had a AQI of 564 on Friday, which is deemed beyond "hazardous." To add insult to injury, many of the shelters housing evacuees are now reporting that norovirus is spreading.
Perhaps that's why when Donald Trump arrived in California to view the damage, it was particularly enraging to hear him stay with his absurd and ignorant statement about the need to prevent fires by raking forests.
“We’ve got to take care of the floors, you know the floors of the forest, very important,” Trump said. “You look at other countries where they do it differently and it’s a whole different story.”
“I was with the president of Finland and he said… we’re a forest nation, he called it a forest nation,” Trump continued, “and they spend a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things. They don’t have any problem, and what it is, it’s a very small problem.”
Oh, there's a lot to unpack about that insanity. Maybe first I want to know how any of the other politicians there (including current governor Jerry Brown, Governor--elect Gavin Newsom, and FEMA Director Brock Long) managed not to burst into guffaws or eye rolls.
But there's also that little niggly fact that Trump NEVER spoke with the president of Finland about raking forests.
The Finnish president Sauli Niinistö doesn’t recall discussing about ”raking leaves” with president Donald Trump. However he does confirm they talked about the California wildfires when meeting shortly in Paris last weekend.
– I mentioned him that Finland is a land covered by forests and we also have a good monitoring system and network, Niinistö says to Ilta-Sanomat on Sunday morning and recalls adding the phrase ”we take care of our forests.”
– However, raking wasn’t brough[t] up in the conversation, Niinistö corrects.
BECAUSE RAKING FOREST FLOORS IS NOT A THING. Thinning forest growth is a method to reduce fire danger, however (and this is a critical point), neither one of the major California fires were started in forests. The utility company PG&E is suspected of culpability (thereby making an argument to upgrading our utility infrastructure) though the full understanding of how and why the fires sparked may take some time to uncover.
Then there is the difference between Finland and California. Finland has...wait for it...rain. Year round. The climate is significantly different than drought-ridden California, where we have not had a major rainfall in a year and consistently higher than normal temperatures. There is no way a person with critical thinking skills could see parallels between the two areas and their fire remittance techniques.
So perhaps that's why the Finns are having so much fun dragging Trump on Twitter.