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With California on Fire, Trump Threatens to Withhold Fire Aid

Officials say the state of California has never seen anything like it. Two massive wildfires, burning at opposite ends of the state, have consumed thousands of homes and businesses and forced the evacuation of 250,000 people, including the entire city of Malibu.

The northern California fire, dubbed Camp Fire, has already become the most destructive fire in state history. Further south, the Woolsey Fire doubled in size overnight and has now charred 70,000 acres.

Reuters:

“Our firefighters have been facing some extreme, tough fire conditions that they said that they’ve never seen in their lives,” Osby said at a news conference.

He said crews hoped to take advantage of a lull on Saturday in the fierce Santa Ana winds driving the flames, but that gusts could return on Sunday.

All 13,000 residents of Malibu, which is 30 miles west of downtown Los Angeles, were told to get out on Friday.

The bodies of two people were discovered in Malibu but it was too early to determine if they died from fire or another cause, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department officials said.

Firefighters have been unable to build any containment lines around the Woolsey Fire, but officials said they hoped to take advantage of a lull in winds on Saturday to make progress.

Donald Trump, who issued an emergency declaration to provide federal funds to firefighters battling the twin blazes, threatened to withhold funds due to "gross mismanagement" of forests.

Is Trump right? At least one expert appears to agree with the president:

Los Angeles Times:

Moritz argues that the state has learned little from this stunning trail of death and destruction.

“We are failing ourselves,” he said.

“We have all kinds of tools to help us do this smarter, to build in a more sustainable way and to co-exist with fire,” he said. “But everybody throws up their hands and says, ‘Oh, all land-use planning is local. You can’t tell people that they can’t build there.’ And the conversation stops right there.”

The new houses rising from the ashes in Santa Rosa will have fire-resistant trappings such as sprinkler systems and double-paned windows, but the  city is not curbing rebuilding in fire zones.

“We had these epic, terrible events last year and our governor came out swinging, talking about climate change. [But] he ended up with decrees and bills that focused on thinning the forest,” Moritz added.

There was “a lot of potential for progress in terms of building codes and design and building more fire-resistant communities. The legislation that could have gone forward didn’t. We dropped the ball,” he lamented.

When people are fighting for their homes and running for their lives, this is not the time to threaten to withhold federal funds.

But the president's point is sound. It's not like these fires come as a surprise. In fact, many areas have burned before and despite warnings from experts like Dr. Moritz and promises from Sacramento to do something about it, communities insist on creating more fuel for these fires by overbuilding. And the state's management of forests could obviously be better.

How much of this destruction is man-made and how much of it is a natural disaster? There have been wildfires in California for thousands of years, but only in recent decades have they become so destructive. That suggests a man-made solution that will require intelligent management of resources and restrictions on rebuilding after the flames have been extinguished.