Before authorities even had a chance to identify the bodies of residents burned beyond recognition in Northern California’s most destructive fire ever early Saturday, President Trump took it upon himself to blame state authorities for the “costly” blaze, prompting an almost immediate backlash from firefighters and survivors.
Residents and survivors of the so-called Camp Fire—which incinerated the entire town of Paradise and at least 23 people in it since it erupted Thursday—expressed disgust at Trump’s remarks on social media, with many questioning why the president had failed to even acknowledge the victims or the thousands of firefighters risking their lives to stop the blaze and get people to safety.
Pop star Katy Perry joined in the chorus of condemnation, blasting Trump’s tweet as “an absolutely heartless response.”
“There aren’t even politics involved. Just good American families losing their homes as you tweet, evacuating into shelters,” she wrote on Twitter.
In his first public comments on the fire, the president also took matters a step further, threatening to pull federal funding to deal with the aftermath of the inferno just hours after signing an emergency declaration to provide federal aid.
“Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!” he warned.
The International Association of Firefighters hit back against the president over his remarks, calling them “irresponsible” and “reckless.”
“To minimize the crucial, life-saving work being done and to make crass suggestions such as cutting off funding during a time of crisis shows a troubling lack of real comprehension about the disaster at hand and the dangerous job our firefighters do,” Harold Schaitberger, the union’s president, said in a statement.
By Sunday, the president had toned down his rhetoric following the backlash, tweeting that “our hearts are with those fighting the fires.” He later reiterated his criticisms, however, writing that the “devastation constantly going on in California” can be stopped “with proper Forest Management.” “Get Smart!” he wrote.
California fire officials have previously disputed the president’s claims that bad management is behind a rise in wildfires and argued that climate change is the real perpetrator.
As of late Saturday, more than 100 people were still missing as a result of the Camp Fire, and the blaze was only 20 percent contained after scorching 105,000 acres of land. More than 6,700 homes were completely destroyed in one town alone. But California fire officials warned that the rest may be yet to come, with a “red flag warning” and “critical fire weather” expected throughout the weekend.
Residents have described an apocalyptic scene.
“It was raining black pieces of soot, coming down like a black snowstorm and starting fires everywhere,” Marc Kessler, a teacher in Paradise, told The Washington Post. “Within minutes, the town was engulfed.”
Jody Jones, the mayor of Paradise, told CNN there were “very few homes still standing” after the fire ravaged the town. “There’s really not much left,” she said.
The destruction wasn’t limited to Northern California. The Hill and Woolsey fires paved a path of destruction through the lavish, celebrity homes of Malibu and other Ventura County communities, including Thousand Oaks, where many residents are still reeling from the mass shooting earlier this week that killed 12.
At least two people have been confirmed dead in Malibu as a result of the Woolsey fire, authorities said.
As of Saturday, fire officials said at least 150 homes had been destroyed in the Southern California fires. The Woolsey fire was at 0 percent containment Saturday, while the Hill fire was 25 percent contained.
Many residents reportedly fled to the sands of Zuma Beach to escape the flames around Malibu, even as the sky above the Pacific turned black from all the smoke.
“This fire is like Armageddon,” Malibu resident Charlie Dresser told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “It’s out of control.”