U.S. President Donald Trump stands for a photograph during an interview in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg)

Trump to Survey Wildfire Damage After Criticizing California Officials

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump will travel to California Saturday to survey damage from the deadliest wildfire in the state’s history, after he provoked a backlash by repeatedly threatening to cut off federal firefighting money even as the inferno and its death toll grew.

White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said Trump will make the trip “to meet with individuals impacted by the wildfires.”

Trump may visit the ruins of the town of Paradise, according to two people familiar with the matter. Flames have swept through more than 8,700 homes in the area since Nov. 8, killing 56 people, according to the Butte County sheriff’s office. Dozens were still missing on Thursday.

Last Saturday, when the sheriff’s department was reporting nine fatalities in the Paradise area, Trump posted a tweet blaming state officials and threatened to cut off federal funding unless California improves its forest management.

“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!” Trump tweeted from France, where he had traveled to recognize the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.

The tweet prompted pushback from local officials, who said Trump’s statement was demoralizing to emergency workers risking their lives.

Forest management can mitigate some of the risk of wildfires, but the federal government, not the state, owns the bulk of California’s forests -- 57 percent, according to data from the University of California. Another 40 percent is held by companies, Native American tribes or families. So if indeed the forest management has been poor, the fault lies partly with Trump’s own agencies.

In his latest budget request, Trump asked Congress to cut the U.S. Forest Service’s funding for the national forest system by 19 percent. Some of the programs designed to reduce wildfire risk, including restoring forest landscapes and the Integrated Resource Restoration Pilot, would have been eliminated altogether.

Trump softened his tone on Monday evening, saying in a tweet: “I am with you all the way. God Bless all of the victims and families affected.”

Trump was also criticized for letting rainy weather and security concerns cancel his trip on Saturday to the graves of American soldiers at Belleau Wood, 55 miles away from downtown Paris, even as the two leaders of France and Germany met at a site near Compiegne, where Germany officially surrendered at dawn on November 11, 1918.

On Thursday, Trump seemed to attempt to make amends, visiting the Marines Barracks in Washington and delivering remarks on his support for veterans and military families at an event on the White House campus.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.