Sep 14, 2020
Donald Trump Receives Briefing on California Wildfires Transcript September 14
President Donald Trump received a briefing on the wildfires in California from Governor Gavin Newsom and other officials on September 14. In one exchange Trump says “It’ll start getting cooler…you just watch” when informed of record California temperatures. Read the transcript of the briefing and remarks here.
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Donald Trump: (00:01)
Secretary of Homeland security, Chad Wolf, FEMA administrator, Pete Gayner, and all of the people, state local leaders, they join us today and we’re having a separate news conference a little bit later on some other subjects. And I just want to thank everybody. It’s been pretty amazing. In August, I approved a major disaster declaration for California. I’ve approved… I think Gavin about 40 Stafford Act declarations. So very quickly because we want to get this thing taken care of, including fire management, assistant grants, to help multiple states stop the fires. More than 28,000 firefighters and first responders are combating the fires in California, Oregon, and Washington. Over 230 soldiers are fighting the August complex fire, and that’s the largest fire in California. That’s the big one. That’s the biggest. And we want to thank all of the brave fighters. We want to thank these incredible people, the first responders, service members who are racing to the extreme peril really, their lives in extreme danger.
Donald Trump: (01:06)
Soon after the event, I’ll present the distinguished flying cross to seven military heroes who recently brave raging fire and suffocating smoke to save lives. So we have seven people that were recommended very strongly by your representatives, and we’re going to give them a very nice medal, very important medal. A US medal that’s very powerful, very important. So I know you like that. Together, we’ll keep the people safe. I want to thank the governor for the job he’s done. We’ve had great coordination, great relationship. I know we come from different sides of the planet, but we actually have a very good relationship. Good man. And governor, would you like to say something?
Governor Newsom: (01:45)
No. Well, it’s great to have you back here in the state, Mr. President, thank you for being here in particular with two of the coast guard aircrafts that we’re now bringing into the California family that have been retrofitted, these C130s. Just an example, another example of the partnership between the federal government and the state of California, that partnership of course extended with incredible collaborative spirit of FEMA. Pete has done an amazing job. He’s known by first name as Pete out here in state of California. Bob Fenton, his regional director. We’re joined by Tom Porter, the chief of Cal Fire, head of natural resources, Wade Crowfoot, pleased to have the Fresno County mayor here, Mayor Mins, and of course, supervisor from up north in Siskyou, that was kind enough to come all the way down.
Governor Newsom: (02:30)
We’ve got fires from Siskyou County, right up there at the border of Oregon, all the way down to the Mexican border. About a month ago, literally to the day, we began to have a series of 14,000 lightning strikes over three day period. 1100 fires have sparked in the last month, 2.8 million acres just in the last 30 days have burned. Unprecedented in California history, 3.2 million over the course of this calendar year. There’s over 16,500 firefighters currently out in the lines and I’m very pleased and I’m very grateful Mr. President, that you’re recognizing some of the other heroes, those national guard men and women that did an extraordinary job saving the lives of hundreds and hundreds of people stranded with some of these most intense fires.
Governor Newsom: (03:17)
You mentioned the August Complex, 789,000 acres. The largest in California history. We have a series of forest fires, but also brush fires and grass fires that we’re tackling. We’ve made great progress in the last few weeks, though tragically we’ve lost 24 lives so far to these battles, 4200 plus structures have been lost, and 44,000 people have evacuated. I want to thank you and acknowledge the work that you’ve done to be mediate in terms of your response to our FMAG requests 14. And we were just talking, Mark Ghilarducci is the head of the Office of Emergency Services, may be a record that the states received in the FMAG support, as well as the major disaster declaration, which you referenced on August 22nd, which was profoundly significant, not only to help us support our mutual aid system, but also individuals that are in desperate need of support.
Governor Newsom: (04:11)
We can agree to disagree, and I appreciate your frame on the politics of this, but let me just acknowledge two things briefly and I’ll turn it back to you. There’s no question when you look past this decade and looking past almost 1000 plus years that we have not done justice on our forest management. I don’t think anyone disputes that. I want to acknowledge, we have our US forest representative here, the state of California, your administration just entered into a first of its type commitment over the next 20 years to double our vegetation management and forest management. I want to thank you for supporting that effort, funding that effort. We acknowledge our role and responsibility to do more in that space. But one thing is fundamental, 57% of the land in this state is federal forest land. 3% is California. So we really do need that support.
Governor Newsom: (05:05)
We need that emphasis of engagement, and we are fully committed to working with you to advance that cause. And final point I’d be negligent, and this is not, and we’ve known each other too long. And as you suggest, the working relationship I value. We obviously feel very strongly that the hots are getting hotter. The dries are getting drier. When we’re having heat domes the likes of which we’ve never seen in our history, the hottest August ever in the history of the state, the ferocity, these fires, the drought five plus years, losing 163 million trees to that drought. Something’s happened to the plumbing of the world. And we come from a perspective, humbly, where we submit the science in and observed evidence is self evident. That climate change is real, and that is exacerbating this. And so I think there’s an area of at least commonality on vegetation, forest management, but please respect and I know you do, the difference of opinion… The difference of opinion out here as it relates to this fundamental issue on the issue of climate change.
Donald Trump: (06:13)
Governor Newsom: (06:13)
Donald Trump: (06:14)
Chad Wolf: (06:17)
Well, thank you Mr. President, for coming to Sacramento today and again, taking that decisive action that we heard the governor talk about and really pulling the full resources of the federal government here to California, as well as to other areas out here in the west. Let me just to reiterate the great partnership that we have between FEMA, the US forest service, Cal Fire, OES, the governor’s office. It’s really the partnership. It’s really a model that we have out here in California that we think is just fantastic. It’s getting a lot of support locally here very quickly. So I just wanted to reiterate that and say, thank you to our partners for what you do every day.
Chad Wolf: (06:53)
Let me just say they also do a great job on mutual aid. So they pull in a number of fire resources from outside of the state, as well as country, for that matter. We were talking earlier about some international partners that they have here. We’re happy to support that as well. And then let me just say, thanks as you did, Mr. President to the brave firefighters and all the first responders that are responding every day to the fires that we see here, those are the heroes of the day, and we’re just happy to be part of that process. Happy to support them with the resources through your office, Mr. President, and just really, again, look forward to the partnership we have here and continuing to push that along.
President Trump: (00:19)
Well, they’re doing a great job, and they really have over the years. It’s a tough battle, but they’ve never let us down.
Chad Wolf: (00:27)
President Trump: (00:27)
Incredible what they’re able to do and the risk and the danger. Pete Gaynor, please, FEMA.
Pete Gaynor: (00:34)
Sir, you’re going to hear this constantly about the partnership. I can’t say enough about the federal, the state, counties, tribes working together out here in California. From the Governor on down, it is a true team effort, and I know the major disaster decs and FMAGs have allowed the Governor’s team to exercise all the resources that the federal government has to respond and protect life, and that’s the number one priority.
Pete Gaynor: (01:03)
I know we’re going to be working on debris removal and then, lastly, protection of the watershed event follow-on disasters come the wet season. So together, I couldn’t be prouder to be part of this team in California.
President Trump: (01:20)
That’s great. Thank you, Pete. Great job. Let everybody know what we think. Incredible job. So Wade and Tom, please.
Wade Crowfoot: (01:28)
Yeah. Well, from our perspective, there is an amazing partnership on the ground, and there needs to be. As the Governor said, we’ve had temperatures explode this summer. You may have learned that we broke a world record in the Death Valley, 130 degrees, but even in greater LA, 120-plus degrees, and we’re seeing this warming trend make our summers warmer, but also our winters warmer as well.
Wade Crowfoot: (01:50)
But I think one area of mutual agreement and priority is vegetation management. But I think we want to work with you to really recognize the changing climate and what it means to our forests and actually work together with that science, that science is going to be key, because if we ignore that science and put our head in the sand and think it’s all about vegetation management, we’re not going to succeed together protecting Californians.
President Trump: (02:12)
Okay. It’ll start getting cooler.
Wade Crowfoot: (02:15)
President Trump: (02:16)
You just watch.
Wade Crowfoot: (02:17)
I wish science agreed with you.
President Trump: (02:18)
Well, I don’t think science knows, actually. Tom, please.
Mr. President, if you’re okay, I’d like to approach the map.
President Trump: (02:27)
Yeah, I’d love that.
Okay. And Governor, good?
President Trump: (02:28)
Thank you. Go ahead.
Governor Newsom: (02:29)
Was great. Thanks, Chief.
On my way, I’ll just reiterate this is a team sport. There is no way to do this [Inaudible 00:02:48] identified, but I wanted to approach the map because what this displays very simply is all of the green is federal lands. Forest Service, PIA, [inaudible 00:02:55], all of the agencies included in Fish and Wildlife Service.
The yellow is all private land. And then that 3%, you can’t really see, it’s scattered out here, but it’s the state lands. But what we have showing here is the odor shift and then the fires that we’re currently fighting all the way from down up near the Mexican border within eight miles of the Mexican border, all the way into Oregon.
So we’ve got a thousand miles spread between these fires we have about in order to put line around these fires with all the partnerships we’re talking about, we have to cut line, scrape line in the ground, from here to Chicago. So it’s a lot of dirt we have to move.
President Trump: (03:38)
And why is that? Why are you doing that?
You have to put a line between the green and the black, in order to put a fire out.
President Trump: (03:45)
You do. So what we’re seeing is in the south here, around 2000, we had beetle kill that caused large fires, The Cedar Fire, The Old Fire-
President Trump: (03:57)
… The Grand Prix, huge fires in 2000. In 2010s through the ’15 time, massive beetle kill in this area and large fires throughout.
President Trump: (04:08)
Would those trees have died anyway from the beetle kill?
They died from beetles, from drought.
President Trump: (04:14)
So they were largely dead or the area was largely dead in terms of the trees?
They died from the beetle kill. And now they’re being burned up by the fires.
President Trump: (04:24)
Now we’re also seeing-
President Trump: (04:26)
Do you view that differently, when the trees are dead in the whole area, because I know the beetle kill has been terrible.
President Trump: (04:32)
So do you view that differently? And now you’re going to be clearing it or doing whatever you’re going to do.
Governor Newsom: (04:37)
163 million. So it’s, boy, it’s a hell of a [inaudible 00:04:41] to start clearing that up.
Yeah. So we focused [crosstalk 00:04:43].
President Trump: (04:43)
But those trees are dead and therefore they’re very flammable? They’re explosive?
They are. They are. So then we have what I’ll call the asbestos forest, the redwood region. It doesn’t burn more than a few hundred acres on occasion. But this year we have 85,000 plus almost 60,000 plus these fires are getting into redwood as well. We’re going to have-
President Trump: (05:06)
So why is that, because of the thickness, the power of the tree? Why aren’t they burning?
They have bark that’s about two feet thick-
President Trump: (05:13)
… and they’re very wet?
And they’re very much… They’re very wet. They’re very resilient to fire.
President Trump: (05:19)
Are you losing some redwoods or almost none.
Some redwoods are dying but most of them will be okay. It’s everything else that’s getting-
President Trump: (05:26)
No kidding, that’s something. I’d never heard that before. So with time, they could go. But, but the fact is they don’t go with the fires. That’s a fantastic-
Yeah, they’re 2000 years old in that area.
President Trump: (05:38)
That is so incredible.
Governor Newsom: (05:38)
Incredible to see.
President Trump: (05:40)
Think of that. Yeah.
Governor Newsom: (05:41)
President Trump: (05:42)
So you’re giant redwoods are where? What area? The giant redwoods.
We have coastal redwoods and then we have giant sequoia, which is, they’re the biggest girth of a tree.
President Trump: (05:54)
And they’re in good shape?
They were getting burned, but they will also survive. Those ancient trees will survive. But this fire down here the SQF Complex
President Trump: (06:05)
Will the bark regenerate on the outside, eventually?
The bark will continue to accumulate on the outside and then the tree will continue to survive.
President Trump: (06:13)
Do you see a big difference?
President Trump: (06:16)
Will that change with time, where you don’t see it? Or will you always know there was a fire there.
You’ll always know there was a fire there.
President Trump: (06:22)
You’ll always know? On the redwoods?
They get scars-
President Trump: (06:25)
… over time. That’s how we can tell-
President Trump: (06:27)
Well that in itself is a shame when you think, right?
Governor Newsom: (06:30)
President Trump: (06:30)
That in itself is a shame. That’s an incredible story. Thank you very much. Appreciate it. Mark, would you like to say something?
Well, Mr. President, first of all, thanks for being here. The term I use here is, is a term I use, one team, one fight. And it really does represent everything that you’re seeing today. All the agencies that we’re working with before, during, and then after these disasters occur, I couldn’t be more pleased.
Our partnership with FEMA has been fantastic. Right now, as you mentioned, you’ve provided a major disaster for 11 counties within the state, different categories. And many of the people who have lost things have already started to register with FEMA and that’s been really a beneficial support to us.
President Trump: (07:14)
So we appreciate that. And the mitigation is really, really critical. Since 2017, we’ve done 94 projects, about $138 million worth of mitigation focused on fire prevention. It’s a whole variety of different kinds of projects and programs within the Wildland and people, what we call the Wildland-Urban Interface to try to buy down the amount of impacts that these fires are occurring.
And so we really appreciate that all of these new fires and this new declaration provides additional mitigation funds, which we will turn back around and continue to support the mitigation efforts.
President Trump: (07:51)
How many individual fires do you have?
I think we have right now actively about 29 major fires.
President Trump: (07:58)
So when you add them all up, this is about as big as it’s ever been, right?
Governor Newsom: (08:03)
Yeah. I mean, well, 1100, just since, I mean, think about that, 1100 fire starts in the last 29 days, but 29 complexes [crosstalk 00:00:08:14].
President Trump: (08:12)
So we put them out? Most of them are put out?
Governor Newsom: (08:15)
Many. Making tremendous progress. The largest, the three largest, they’re still active. Two of them are substantially contained.
President Trump: (08:22)
Governor Newsom: (08:23)
The August we have still a lot of work to do.
Wade Crowfoot: (08:25)
And Governor, if I could, just for the President, this is a bar chart that shows the acreage burned over the years. Top bar is this year. And the real scary part, Mr. President is we’re only part way through the season.
President Trump: (08:37)
Wade Crowfoot: (08:38)
The worst fire that you obviously visited-
President Trump: (08:40)
That was a bad one.
Wade Crowfoot: (08:40)
The Paradise Fire happened in October. We’re still staring down the barrel of worse fires potentially this year.
President Trump: (08:46)
We were there together. Let me ask you in Paradise, so did they have, it was like a blow torch, right? Because the winds are 85 miles an hour. Nobody’s ever seen anything like that. So that was different.
President Trump: (08:56)
Has there ever been anything like that in terms of the power and the heat?
Governor Newsom: (09:00)
Wade Crowfoot: (09:00)
Well, I’ll tell you this, sir. The Creek fire that the sheriff evacuated folks from is generating some of the worst heat in Fresno and Medera counties that’s ever been experienced, creating its own weather crop cloud that almost looked like a mushroom cloud.
President Trump: (09:14)
I see. So that creates the heat also? That’s incredible. Would you like to say something, please?
Speaker 9: (09:20)
Well, thank you Mr. President for coming and visiting California and on behalf of Fresno County, who I’m speaking for today, I want to thank you for your visit.
Speaker 9: (09:31)
Beginning on September 4th, our Creek Fire started. It impacted not only the residents, but utility infrastructure that services California. Yeah,
President Trump: (09:40)
That’s right. That’s right. That’s a big problem, isn’t it? How is that going?
Governor Newsom: (09:45)
Progress. We’ve got the largest utility in the United States, PG&E out of bankruptcy in record time with-
President Trump: (09:51)
Governor Newsom: (09:51)
… firm commitments to make sure we never walked back down that path.
President Trump: (09:54)
Good. That’s a lot of utilities that are burning up though. Yeah, go ahead.
Speaker 9: (09:59)
Our fire right now is over 200,000 acres and it’s really more than any single local government can take care of. And so we are asking for assistance. We’ve already made some progress today by getting a hold of FEMA.
Speaker 9: (10:15)
And I made a request from Pete to have a representative right in our command post and we’re making that happen so that’s going to be very valuable for us. Not only has it impacted our woodland, but the families that have lived there for generations in that area, the Big Creek Hydroelectric power generating system that served California for over a hundred years is destroyed as well as the people that live there in their homes that operate that system.
Speaker 9: (10:44)
One major concern in the future is erosion, slope, stability, ash runoff, and possible mud slides as a result. [crosstalk 00:10:53].
President Trump: (10:52)
So what’s going to take the place of that generator? What are you going to do?
Speaker 9: (10:57)
We have to actually restart it at Southern California Edison.
President Trump: (11:02)
You’ll be able to fix it and restart it?
Governor Newsom: (11:03)
Speaker 9: (11:04)
[crosstalk 00:11:08] .
President Trump: (11:08)
It’s a big damage? Big?
Well, it was a hydroelectric plant that wasn’t directly damaged, but there was damage leading up to the facility.
President Trump: (11:19)
And so we’re mitigate all that.
President Trump: (11:20)
I love hydro. Hydroelectric. I love, I think it’s great. You must like that. I love the hydroelectric. Go ahead please.
Speaker 9: (11:28)
So far we’ve had over 300 structures that have burned, but we could have had many more and I need to commend the efforts that Cal Fire gave to us not only with pre-work by doing some tree mortality mitigation-
President Trump: (11:42)
Speaker 9: (11:42)
… but during that fire, they were able to cut some breaks that allowed law enforcement to evacuate over 20,000 people from these areas. So they did a great job and I’m glad to report that in Fresno County, we’ve had no loss of life.
President Trump: (12:00)
Speaker 9: (12:01)
And I will say that in Fresno County, we understand that we need a strong partnership with our federal government and we are ready, willing, and able to be your partner on this. We support-
President Trump: (12:15)
And your state government.
Speaker 9: (12:15)
President Trump: (12:15)
That’s going good, right?
Speaker 9: (12:18)
We’re getting what we need.
President Trump: (12:18)
I have no doubt. Good. We ought to mention that.
Speaker 9: (12:21)
Of the areas that we’ve mitigated, I think in Fresno County, we got five of those so thank you.
President Trump: (12:26)
So you’re working well with every body?
Speaker 9: (12:27)
President Trump: (12:28)
Speaker 9: (12:29)
President Trump: (12:29)
Good. Thank you very much. I appreciate it. Thank you. Please.
Speaker 10: (12:34)
Thank you, Mr. President for… On? Thank you Mr. President for being here and listening to a very rural community and county in California. I am at the far extreme end of the state up there they were pointing to. My county continues to repeat the things that you saw in Paradise when you were there, on a smaller scale.
Speaker 10: (13:00)
The town of Happy Camp this year is under the Slater Fire that took off, and in a 24 hour period, we lost 258 structures in a very small town. Half of my population is displaced. At this point in time, we have 158 homes completely destroyed.
President Trump: (13:18)
Will that population come back?
Speaker 10: (13:22)
Sir, that’s a tough question because these are very poor people anyway, and they’re living through the downturn of the timber economy at this point and there’s very low employment in this area. We are completely surrounded by federal timber at this point that needs some active forest management that would both improve the economy of the area, as well as even increase the water flow that is in shortage in California in some of these places.
Speaker 10: (13:56)
Personally, I’m been coming to you as a forester, an elected official in a past land manager for the US Forest Service and firefighter.
President Trump: (14:03)
Speaker 10: (14:05)
In this area, I’ve worked with UC Berkeley and UC Merced on some studies. Our forests in the northern region, which historically have been pretty asbestos-like, are carrying four times the density that they did in 1930.
Speaker 10: (14:22)
So we have both the increase in brush in the Wildland Interface, as well as the lack of management producing these extreme densities and climate changes. And I can’t do much about that as a forester actively managing that forest, I can manipulate fuels and I can do that in a pretty short order.
Speaker 10: (14:45)
I applaud you for the work you’ve done. I applaud you for the Farm Bill authorities, our County just completed a master stewardship agreement with the US Forest Service. And we have about a half million acre project that’s ready to go across all boundaries in our state and-
President Trump: (15:02)
Speaker 10: (15:03)
… and the four national forest within our boundary.
President Trump: (15:05)
Well, Gavin’s working on that with me. You know, you make money too. You’re cutting down trees. You’re thinning it out and you’re selling those trees for a lot of money. And it’s really pretty good in a lot of ways. And I guess one of the things are the cuts, the big, whether it’s 50 yards or 100 yards, but the cuts to stop it from spreading.
President Trump: (15:24)
And that’s always tough environmentally, but you know, they can do it in a way that’s pretty good. And I think now the environmentalists have come a long way after watching this.
Speaker 10: (15:33)
President Trump: (15:33)
The ones that really want to take care of a problem, they’ve come a long way. So there’ll be thinning it out, then. You’re working on a plan to thin it out?
Speaker 10: (15:40)
That’s what the plan is right now. I will say that we have a excellent working relationships with CAL FIRE as well.
President Trump: (15:48)
Speaker 10: (15:48)
And we need to marry the state programs with the federal programs across the boundaries and jurisdictional boundaries so that we’re effective in moderating large fire behavior.
President Trump: (15:58)
Governor Newsom: (15:59)
And Mr. President, just to the Supervisor’s point, that’s exactly what the stewardship partnership that we advanced with your administration will do in the next 20 years is we’re sharing maps, we’re sharing resources, we’re prioritizing, we’re doubling the number of acres federally managed, state managed. And I will say just humbly, we’ve got to double it still.
Governor Newsom: (16:20)
Meaning the partnership was significant. It was first in California’s history with the US government, but we’re going to need to do a lot more to the extent we can provide more support [crosstalk 00:16:30].
President Trump: (16:29)
Yeah, well I’m all for it. That’s something that I feel so strongly about. You can knock this down to nothing. You go to Europe and different places in Europe, countries where they’re forest countries, and they’re very, very strong on management and they don’t have a problem.
President Trump: (16:42)
They really don’t have with, as they say, more explosive trees than we have in California. So thank you very much for your comments, but we’re working on that very hard together and I think we’re totally in sync. I really think we’re totally in sync.
Speaker 11: (16:54)
President Trump: (16:55)
We’re going to see you in a few minutes for the award ceremony, so thank you very much, everybody. Thank you. Yeah, go ahead, please.
Speaker 11: (17:03)
Governor, if I could just, just briefly-