Sunday 16 December 2018

Finns ridicule Trump advice on devastating forest wildfires

Left: US President Donald Trump visits homes that were ravaged by fire in Malibu, during his trip to the west coast to see first-hand the damage. Photo: REUTERS
Left: US President Donald Trump visits homes that were ravaged by fire in Malibu, during his trip to the west coast to see first-hand the damage. Photo: REUTERS

Rob Crilly in New York

US president Donald Trump's weekend visit to fire-ravaged California has prompted a withering barrage of ridicule and anger after he suggested the state should copy Finland in raking forest floors to prevent a repeat of wildfires that have killed at least 76 people.

He claimed he had received the tip from the president of Finland, who promptly said that he could not remember offering such advice.

"You gotta take care of the floors. You know the floors of the forest, very important," said Mr Trump during his trip.

"I was with the president of Finland and he called it a forest nation, and they spend a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things and they don't have any problem."

But in an interview published in the 'Ilta-Sanomat' newspaper, Sauli Niinisto said he told his American counterpart that the secret lay in an extensive monitoring system.

"Finland is a country covered by forests but we also have a good surveillance system and network," ran his account of their conversation last week.

Recovered: Forensic scientists Kyra Stull (left) and Tatiana Vlemincq take away human remains from a home on a street full of mobile homes that was entirely destroyed by fire in Paradise, California. Photo: Terray Sylvester/Reuters
Recovered: Forensic scientists Kyra Stull (left) and Tatiana Vlemincq take away human remains from a home on a street full of mobile homes that was entirely destroyed by fire in Paradise, California. Photo: Terray Sylvester/Reuters

Even before those comments, Mr Trump received a slew of criticism for a tone-deaf response to a state hurting badly from the human and economic impact of its most deadly wildfire in history, and where almost 1,300 people are listed as missing.

He was condemned for blaming officials working to prevent more loss of life and mocked for comparing arid California with a Nordic country where melting snow causes springtime floods.

Veli Pekka Kilimaki, a Finnish defence researcher, tweeted: "I perhaps wouldn't compare Finland and California climate-wise... 80pc of the country is classified as forest land. We don't exactly manicure all of it."

An army of Finns posted photographs showing how they spent their weekends, rake in hand, working to prevent forest fires, and the liberal 'New York Daily News' headlined its front page "Make America rake again", in a play on Mr Trump's election slogan.

Northern California's Camp Fire has so far destroyed nearly 10,000 homes and blackened 600 sq km.

Authorities are still sifting through the charred wreckage of California's deadliest ever wildfire, searching for any signs of the 1,276 people now listed as missing after the Camp Fire tore through the mountain town of Paradise.

The remains of 76 people have been recovered so far, 63 of whom have been tentatively identified pending DNA confirmation. The blaze, which ignited on November 8, was 60pc contained, officials said, up from 55pc on Saturday.

Up to 10cm of rain is forecast for the area this week, potentially helping douse the blazes but raising the risk of floods and mudslides, adding to the misery of 46,000 people under evacuation orders.

On Saturday, two forensic anthropologists for the University of Nevada, Reno, were helping firefighters sort through the wreckage at a mobile home park for senior citizens in Paradise.

Firefighters peeled back the metal sheet of a collapsed roof as the anthropologists picked up visibly charred bone fragments, sorting them into paper bags.

Roger Fielding, chief deputy coroner with the Martin County Sheriff's Office, said that each site was treated as a crime scene, with every step of recovery documented with photographs.

Patrick Burke, a forecaster with the National Weather Service's Weather Prediction Centre, said the rain would be a "one-two-punch".

"It'll bring much needed relief to firefighters and to the air quality, but there's a potential for dangerous mudslides wherever vegetation is burned away on slopes," he said.

Five more bodies were found on Saturday, as Mr Trump flew in to tour the affected region.

He was accompanied by the state's outgoing and incoming governors, both Democrats, who have traded barbs with the Republican administration - often on climate change. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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