President Donald Trump declared the worst of California’s nearly two dozen active wildfires a major disaster Saturday, providing funding to victims despite his vocal criticism of state leadership.
The White House announced that federal aid would soon be coming to Californians displaced by the wildfires raging since Aug. 14, many of which were sparked by lightning.
The president’s announcement comes as a contrast to his public statements, which have often been sharply aimed at California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s management of fire-prone forests.
The two elected officials have argued in the past over the state’s handling of wildfires. Most recently, Trump took to Twitter to threaten withholding federal funding if the state didn’t maintain its forest floors more thoroughly.
“I see again the forest fires are starting,” the president reiterated at a rally in Pennsylvania on Thursday. “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 … Maybe we’re just going to have to make them pay for it because they don’t listen to us.”
Newsom was quick to downplay Trump’s warnings, characterizing them as the empty threats of a steadfast behind-the-scenes partner. He insisted during a news conference Friday that he shares a good working relationship with the president, attempting to assuage the fears of Californians amid a powerful fire season.
“There’s not phone call that I have made to the president where he hasn’t quickly responded,” the Democratic governor said. “He may make statements publicly, but the working relationship privately is an effective one.”
However, the night before, Newsom also shot back at Trump over his threats.
“Just today, the president of the United States threatened the state of California — 40 million Americans happen to live here in the state of California — to defund our efforts on wildfire suppression because he said we hadn’t raked enough leaves,” the governor said during the Democratic National Convention on Thursday.
Either way, Newsom’s confidence in federal cooperation appears to have been well-placed.
The Saturday announcement will free up funding for residents of several of the most-affected California areas, comprising Lake, Napa, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Solano, Sonoma, and Yolo counties.
Federal assistance will be made available for those who require temporary housing, home repairs or need loans for uninsured property damages, or business owners who will need help recovering from the fires. Funding will also be provided to state and local governments in order to provide emergency protective measures and hazard mitigation during the crisis.
There are almost two dozen wildfires raging in California, several of which are among the largest the state has ever seen. Among the most devastating is the LNU Lightning Complex in Lake and Napa counties. It is the state’s second largest wildfire ever at 314,207 acres as of Saturday afternoon. Thousands of Californians have been evacuated statewide and hundreds of homes have been destroyed.
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