Trump: We cannot continue to spend 'billions' on 'preventable' forest fires

Trump: We cannot continue to spend 'billions' on 'preventable' forest fires
© Greg Nash

President TrumpDonald John TrumpAmash responds to 'Send her back' chants at Trump rally: 'This is how history's worst episodes begin' McConnell: Trump 'on to something' with attacks on Dem congresswomen Trump blasts 'corrupt' Puerto Rico's leaders amid political crisis MORE on Wednesday appeared to ease off his threat to cut disaster funding for California forest fire victims, but emphasized there should be action to prevent future blazes.

“I told my people, I said we cannot continue to spend billions of dollars, billions and billions of dollars,” Trump told regional reporters at the White House. “Forest fires are totally preventable. They shouldn’t happen.”

The Los Angeles Times reported that Trump said he spoke with Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) a couple weeks after a Jan. 9 tweet in which the president threatened to direct FEMA to halt disaster funding for California "unless they get their act together."

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“He was very respectful as to my point of view,” Trump said. “I think he agrees with me. I respect the fact that he called. The forests are, because of whatever reason, ... extraordinarily flammable, to put it mildly.”

Newsom's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump has at least twice before threatened to withhold disaster funding from California for its wildfires and pressed the state to fix what he sees as major flaws with its forest management practices that cause or exacerbate fires.

The president on Wednesday doubled down on those arguments, The Los Angeles Times reported, telling reporters that state environmental rules block the federal government from managing its lands in California.

The news outlet noted that much of the state's forests are on federal property or private property.

Local officials and fire experts have criticized Trump for ignoring the impact that climate change is having on the length and severity of fires — and denying climate change science — while giving too much credit to forest management.

California passed a comprehensive law last year aimed at wildfires. Among other changes, it puts new resources into clearing out brush, dead trees and other biomass that contributes to fires.

Wildfires ravaged the state in 2018, with the Camp Fire in Northern California killing at least 85 people and destroying thousands of buildings. The wildfire was the deadliest in the state's history and racked up an overall damage cost of $16.5 billion.

As the Camp Fire raged in November, Trump threatened to withhold federal payments to the state unless officials addressed forest management. The president ultimately issued a disaster declaration for California that freed up federal funding.