We try to ignore these social media outbursts, but Donald Trump’s Twitter blast about California’s wildfires was so thoroughly inaccurate that it demands a response.
“California wildfires are being magnified & made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amount of readily available water to be properly utilized. It is being diverted into the Pacific Ocean,” the president tweeted on Sunday. “Must also tree clear to stop fire spreading!”
He wasn’t finished.
On Monday, Trump tweeted again: “Governor Jerry Brown must allow the Free Flow of the vast amounts of water coming from the North and foolishly being diverted into the Pacific Ocean. Can be used for fires, farming and everything else. Think of California with plenty of Water — Nice! Fast Federal govt. approvals.”
There’s a lot here to sort through, including Trump’s failure to say anything about the nine people who lost their lives in the ongoing fires or the hundreds who have been left homeless.
But let’s start with his suggestion that firefighters are being stymied by a lack of water.
To sum up Cal Fire’s response in one word, poppycock.
“We are not having any issues accessing any water supplies. We have plenty,” Cal Fire spokesman Scott McLean told KQED in comments echoed by other agency officials.
Firefighters battling the Mendocino Complex are using water from Clear Lake, and their counterparts working the Carr fire near Redding can draw water from Shasta Lake, Trinity Lake and the Sacramento River. With reservoirs mostly filled, there’s ample water available to fight all 18 now burning around the state, according to Cal Fire.
Water is just one tool in wildland firefights, where a primary objective is containment. Hand crews and bulldozers build lines by clearing brush and trees, sometimes setting backfires to remove combustible material. When weather conditions allow, aircraft dump fire retardant in the path of the flames.
Cal Fire officials say their concerns are high temperatures, exemplified by July’s record-setting heat across the state; low humidity; strong winds and dry fuel. And they concur that climate change is contributing to longer, more intense fire seasons.
The president says climate change is a hoax, but that’s another Twitterstorm for another day.
Forestry experts agree with one aspect of Trump’s wildfire tweets, his “tree clear” reference to thinning forests and clearing underbrush to reduce the risk of wildfires. California allocated $256 million in this year’s budget to speed up those efforts, and Washington needs to do more.Trump’s references to “bad environmental laws” and rivers being “diverted” into the Pacific Ocean (which turns hydrology on its head) suggest another motive for his tweets: bolstering support from Central Valley growers, who covet water from Northern California rivers to irrigate their crops, and object to laws and policies that tighten the tap in order to safeguard the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and threatened and endangered species, including salmon.
Trump has declared a major disaster in Shasta County, making Carr fire victims eligible for federal aid. On Tuesday, two dozen House members, including North Bay Reps. Jared Huffman and Mike Thompson, asked him to extend relief to victims in Lake, Mendocino and Napa counties.