The Trump administration this week abruptly rejected California’s request for federal disaster relief funds to help residents affected by the Creek fire and a string of other devastating blazes that have ravaged the state.
State officials received a rejection letter that gave no explanation for the rebuff, a spokesperson for the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services said Thursday. The state plans to appeal.
The Trump administration previously approved similar requests for other wildfires, though President Donald Trump has threatened to cut aid to the Democratic-led state for partisan reasons.
On Friday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which administers disaster funds, said the agency “determined that the early September fires were not of such severity and magnitude to exceed the combined capabilities of the state, affected local governments, voluntary agencies and other responding federal agencies.”
Yet by Friday afternoon, Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), a Trump ally, claimed that the president had “committed to reverse FEMA’s decision to deny the request.”
Trump has routinely questioned the science behind California’s worsening fires. Fires have become larger and more frequent in recent years, along with extreme heat and droughts, because of climate change, according to experts. But Trump has repeatedly denied the role of climate change.
“It will start getting cooler. You just watch,” Trump told state officials during a trip to survey fire damage last month. “I don’t think science knows, actually.”
Trump has also repeatedly blamed California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), claiming the state has poor “forest management” and needs to get rid of “exploding” trees.
“When trees fall down, after a short period of time they become very dry — really like a matchstick … and they can explode,” Trump said last month. “Also leaves. When you have dried leaves on the ground, it’s just fuel for the fires.”
Many of the state’s biggest fires have been on federally managed land.
Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.), whose Southern California district has been among the areas hit hard by the fires, said Trump, who is attending a private fundraiser in the area on Sunday, has made his interests clear.
“It’s outrageous, particularly outrageous to me and those in the district I represent, as he is refusing assistance to what is no doubt a legitimate significant disaster,” she said Friday. “He is coming to Orange County to a $150,000 a person fundraiser. It just shows where his priorities are. It’s enriching his campaign and himself, not meeting the need of those who have been devastated by natural disasters.”
Igor Bobic contributed reporting.