Friday, October 16, 2020

Trump administration rejects emergency aid for California fires, including state's first million-acre blaze

Update: The Trump administration quickly reversed its decision to deny California wildfire aid after widespread outcry, The New York Times reports.

"Fueled by extreme heat and tinder-dry conditions, wildfires exploded across California in September, blazing through almost 1.9 million acres, destroying nearly 1,000 homes and killing at least three people. One wildfire, the Creek Fire, became the largest single blaze in California history and grew so fierce it spun up fire tornadoes with 125-mph winds," Tim Elfrink reports for The Washington Post. "But the Trump administration this week refused to grant an emergency declaration that would open up hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding for areas devastated in those fires, California state officials confirmed to The Washington Post early Friday."

The Trump administration has granted similar declarations for other wildfires earlier this year, so it's unclear why California's request was denied. "President Trump has previously threatened to withhold emergency fire aid to California over disputed claims that the state isn’t doing enough to prevent wildfires," Elfrink reports. He has repeatedly criticized California for poor forest management, but state and local governments only control 3 percent of the state's forests; the federal government owns and manages 57%. 

The fires have gotten so big because of climate change, which spurred a record-dry February, and because the stretched-thin firefighting forces prioritized more densely populated areas over rural fires where fewer people were in immediate danger.

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