Cal Fire official on Trump's wildfire theories: 'I don’t know what he's getting at'

President Trump’s claim that California’s environmental policies are preventing firefighters from accessing enough water to stop the state’s wildfires has been roundly dismissed by experts and state officials.

Windy conditions and high heat expanded the Mendocino Complex Fire to 290,692 acres by Tuesday morning, making it the largest wildfire in the state’s history, destroying some 75 homes and forcing thousands to evacuate. Seven other major wildfires are burning in California, from Shasta County to San Bernardino County, at the same time.

Trump made the dubious claim that “readily available water” is being diverted into the Pacific Ocean for environmental reasons and blamed California Gov. Jerry Brown in a series of tweets.

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Mendocino Complex Fire in California
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Mendocino Complex Fire in California
UPPER LAKE, CA - JULY 31: Firefighters monitor a controlled burn on State Highway 20 on July 31, 2018 in Upper Lake, California. (Photo by Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - A deer runs from flames as the Ranch Fire tears down New Long Valley Rd near Clearlake Oaks, California, on Saturday, August 4, 2018. - The Ranch Fire is part of the Mendocino Complex, which is made up of two blazes, the River Fire and the Ranch Fire. (Photo by NOAH BERGER / AFP) (Photo credit should read NOAH BERGER/AFP/Getty Images)
LAKEPORT, CA - JULY 31: A resident pushes personal belonging in a wheelbarrow as she evacuates ahead of the River Fire on July 31, 2018 in Lakeport, California. The River Fire has burned over 27,000 acres, destroyed seven homes and stands at only eight percent contained. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Alex Schenck carries a water bucket while fighting to save his home as the Ranch Fire tears down New Long Valley Rd near Clearlake Oaks, California, on Saturday, August 4, 2018. - The Ranch Fire is part of the Mendocino Complex, which is made up of two blazes, the River Fire and the Ranch Fire. (Photo by NOAH BERGER / AFP) (Photo credit should read NOAH BERGER/AFP/Getty Images)
A DC-10 air tanker drops fire retardant along the crest of a hill to protect the two bulldozers below that were cutting fire lines at the River Fire (Mendocino Complex) near Lakeport, California, U.S. August 2, 2018. REUTERS/Fred Greaves TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Flames lick behind a Buddha lawn statue as the Ranch Fire tears down New Long Valley Rd near Clearlake Oaks, California, on Saturday, August 4, 2018. - The Ranch Fire is part of the Mendocino Complex, which is made up of two blazes, the River Fire and the Ranch Fire. (Photo by NOAH BERGER / AFP) (Photo credit should read NOAH BERGER/AFP/Getty Images)
Firefighters watch as an air tanker drops fire retardant to protect homes along the crest of a hill at the River Fire (Mendocino Complex) near Lakeport, California, U.S. August 2, 2018. REUTERS/Fred Greaves
A structure burns out of control in the River Fire (Mendocino Complex) in Lakeport, California, U.S. July 31, 2018. REUTERS/Fred Greaves
Wind-driven flames roll over a hill towards homes during the River Fire (Mendocino Complex) near Lakeport, California, U.S. August 2, 2018. REUTERS/Fred Greaves TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
LAKEPORT, CA - JULY 31: A West Covina firefighter looks on while a horse barn burns as the River Fire moves through the area on July 31, 2018 in Lakeport, California. The River Fire has burned over 27,000 acres, destroyed 7 homes and stands at 8 percent contained. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A firefighting helicopter drops water onto a hot spot at the River Fire (Mendocino Complex) near Lakeport, California, U.S. August 2, 2018. REUTERS/Fred Greaves
TOPSHOT - A firefighter douses flames while battling the Ranch Fire tears down New Long Valley Rd near Clearlake Oaks, California, on Saturday, August 4, 2018. - The Ranch Fire is part of the Mendocino Complex, which is made up of two blazes, the River Fire and the Ranch Fire. (Photo by NOAH BERGER / AFP) (Photo credit should read NOAH BERGER/AFP/Getty Images)
Firefighters take advantage of a shady spot to rest along a covered downtown sidewalk during their off time from fighting the Ranch Fire (Mendocino Complex) in Upper Lake, California, U.S. August 2, 2018. REUTERS/Fred Greaves
Firefighters ride in the back of a pickup truck while battling the Ranch Fire on New Long Valley Rd near Clearlake Oaks, California, on Saturday, August 4, 2018. - The Ranch Fire is part of the Mendocino Complex, which is made up of two blazes, the River Fire and the Ranch Fire. (Photo by NOAH BERGER / AFP) (Photo credit should read NOAH BERGER/AFP/Getty Images)
Firefighters pull a hose from a brush rig to assist in knocking down hotspots on the Ranch Fire (Mendocino Complex) north of Upper Lake, California, U.S. August 2, 2018. REUTERS/Fred Greaves
Battalion Chief Matt Sully directs operations on the Ranch Fire, part of the Mendocino Complex Fire, burning on High Valley Rd. near Clearlake Oaks, California, on Sunday, Aug. 5, 2018. (Photo by NOAH BERGER / AFP) (Photo credit should read NOAH BERGER/AFP/Getty Images)
A firefighter hits a burning log with an axe, causing a puff of flame, while knocking down hotspots on the Ranch Fire (Mendocino Complex) north of Upper Lake, California, U.S. August 2, 2018. REUTERS/Fred Greaves
Firefighters watch a back burn during the Mendocino Complex fire in Upper Lake, California on July 31, 2018. - The Mendocino Complex -- made up of two fires -- has burned more than 24,000 acres in total since July 27. Thousands of firefighters in California made some progress against several large-scale blazes that have turned close to 200,000 acres (80,940 hectares) into an ashen wasteland, destroyed expensive homes, and killed eight fire personnel and civilians in the most populous US state. (Photo by JOSH EDELSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
LAKEPORT, CA - JULY 31: Chickens stand near a burning home as the River Fire moves through the area on July 31, 2018 in Lakeport, California. The River Fire has burned over 27,000 acres, destroyed seven homes and stands at only eight percent contained. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
(L-R) Firefighters Ryan Bridges and Brian Lucero rest along a covered downtown sidewalk during their off time from fighting the Ranch Fire (Mendocino Complex) in Upper Lake, California, U.S. August 2, 2018. REUTERS/Fred Greaves
LAKEPORT, CA - AUGUST 01: A firefighting aircraft drops fire retardant ahead of the River Fire as it burns through a canyon on August 1, 2018 in Lakeport, California. The River Fire has burned over 27,000 acres, destroyed 7 homes and stands at 38 percent contained. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A structure burns out of control in the River Fire (Mendocino Complex) in Lakeport, California, U.S. July 31, 2018. REUTERS/Fred Greaves
A firefighter turns his back to the flames while battling the Ranch Fire (Mendocino Complex) north of Upper Lake, California, U.S., August 1, 2018. REUTERS/Fred Greaves
Firefighters knock down hotspots to slow the spread of the River Fire (Mendocino Complex) in Lakeport, California, U.S. July 31, 2018. REUTERS/Fred Greaves
A firefighter monitors backfires used to slow the spread of the the Ranch Fire (Mendocino Complex) north of Upper Lake, California, U.S. August 1, 2018. REUTERS/Fred Greaves
The Ranch Fire, part of the Mendocino Complex Fire, crests a ridge as Battalion Chief Matt Sully directs firefighting operations on High Valley Rd. near Clearlake Oaks, California, on Sunday, Aug. 5, 2018. (Photo by NOAH BERGER / AFP) (Photo credit should read NOAH BERGER/AFP/Getty Images)
Flames leap above High Valley Rd as the Ranch Fire, part of the Mendocino Complex Fire, burns near Clearlake Oaks, California, on August 5, 2018. - Several thousand people have been evacuated as various fires swept across the state, although some have been given permission in recent days to return to their homes. (Photo by NOAH BERGER / AFP) (Photo credit should read NOAH BERGER/AFP/Getty Images)
Firefighter Joe Smith retrieves supplies while battling the Ranch Fire, part of the Mendocino Complex Fire, burning along High Valley Rd near Clearlake Oaks, California, on August 5, 2018. - Several thousand people have been evacuated as various fires swept across the state, although some have been given permission in recent days to return to their homes. (Photo by NOAH BERGER / AFP) (Photo credit should read NOAH BERGER/AFP/Getty Images)
An air tanker drops retardant on the Ranch Fire, part of the Mendocino Complex Fire, burning along High Valley Rd near Clearlake Oaks, California, on August 5, 2018. - Several thousand people have been evacuated as various fires swept across the state, although some have been given permission in recent days to return to their homes. (Photo by NOAH BERGER / AFP) (Photo credit should read NOAH BERGER/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Alex Schenck moves flaming pallets while fighting to save his home as the Ranch Fire tears down New Long Valley Rd near Clearlake Oaks, California, on Saturday, August 4, 2018. - The Ranch Fire is part of the Mendocino Complex, which is made up of two blazes, the River Fire and the Ranch Fire. (Photo by NOAH BERGER / AFP) (Photo credit should read NOAH BERGER/AFP/Getty Images)
LAKEPORT, CA - AUGUST 01: Inmate firefighters look on as a firefighting aircraft prepares to drop fire retardant ahead of the River Fire as it burns through a canyon on August 1, 2018 in Lakeport, California. The River Fire has burned over 27,000 acres, destroyed 7 homes and stands at 38 percent contained. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Flames leap above a vehicle on High Valley Rd as the Ranch Fire, part of the Mendocino Complex Fire, burns near Clearlake Oaks, California, on August 5, 2018. - Several thousand people have been evacuated as various fires swept across the state, although some have been given permission in recent days to return to their homes. (Photo by NOAH BERGER / AFP) (Photo credit should read NOAH BERGER/AFP/Getty Images)
A firefighter walks through smoke as flames approach a home during the Mendocino Complex fire in Lakeport, California on July 30, 2018. - The Mendocino Complex -- made up of two fires -- has burned more than 24,000 acres in total since July 27. Thousands of firefighters in California made some progress against several large-scale blazes that have turned close to 200,000 acres (80,940 hectares) into an ashen wasteland, destroyed expensive homes, and killed eight fire personnel and civilians in the most populous US state. (Photo by JOSH EDELSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
A firefighter watches as a building burns during the Mendocino Complex fire in Lakeport, California, on July 30, 2018. - The Mendocino Complex -- made up of two fires -- has burned more than 24,000 acres in total since July 27. Thousands of firefighters in California made some progress against several large-scale blazes that have turned close to 200,000 acres (80,940 hectares) into an ashen wasteland, destroyed expensive homes, and killed eight fire personnel and civilians in the most populous US state. (Photo by JOSH EDELSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
A helicopter drops water while helping to fight the Mendocino Complex fire in Lakeport, California, on July 30, 2018. - The Mendocino Complex -- made up of two fires -- has burned more than 24,000 acres in total since July 27. Thousands of firefighters in California made some progress against several large-scale blazes that have turned close to 200,000 acres (80,940 hectares) into an ashen wasteland, destroyed expensive homes, and killed eight fire personnel and civilians in the most populous US state. (Photo by JOSH EDELSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
LAKEPORT, CA - JULY 31: A firefighter lights a back fire ahead of the River Fire on July 31, 2018 in Lakeport, California. The River Fire has burned over 27,000 acres, destroyed seven homes and stands at only eight percent contained. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
LAKEPORT, CA - JULY 31: Smoke from the River Fire fills the sky as it burns through a canyon on July 31, 2018 in Lakeport, California. The River Fire has burned over 27,000 acres, destroyed seven homes and stands at only eight percent contained. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A firefighter knocks down hotspots to slow the spread of the River Fire (Mendocino Complex) in Lakeport, California, U.S. July 31, 2018. REUTERS/Fred Greaves
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“California wildfires are being magnified & made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amounts of readily available water to be properly utilized. It is being diverted into the Pacific Ocean. Must also tree clear to stop fire from spreading!” Trump tweeted on Monday.

Yahoo News reached out to Scott McLean, a deputy chief at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), to get the agency’s take on Trump’s claims and what’s actually happening in the efforts to stop the Mendocino Complex and other wildfires. He outright rejected the assertion that firefighters do not have enough water to handle the current wildfires.

“No, that is untrue. There are bodies of water. There are lakes near the Carr Fire: the Shasta Lake, the Whiskeytown Lake that’s surrounded by the fire, Trinity Lake — we have plenty of water, Sacramento River is just to the east,” McLean said. “On your Mendocino Complex, it’s wrapped around Clear Lake. It’s got Mendocino Lake, Berryessa Lake, and it has a river close by, so there are absolutely no water issues.”

We asked why Trump was saying that the state’s water is being redirecting into the ocean and where that idea originated.

“I cannot speak to that. I don’t know what he’s getting at. I have no idea,” McLean said. He added that California’s water policy has had “no effect to our water supply.”

On top of calling climate change a hoax, Trump has been critical of the U.S. Forest Service’s forest fire prevention campaign with Smokey Bear.

 

Kate Poole, the senior director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) water division, said it’s hard to know where to begin in responding to Trump’s tweets because they’re fundamentally wrong on many levels. She said the firefighters have plenty of water, adding that the fires are a manifestation of the effects of climate change.

“These fires are what it means in the West to live with higher temperatures, less snowpack and more frequent and intense droughts. All of those problems are a result of climate change. Where’s the president’s outrage about that? We’d even settle for a coherent policy to tackle it, rather than make it worse,” Poole told Yahoo News.

She said Trump, in complaining about water “diverted” to the Pacific, seems to not understand that rivers flow downhill toward the ocean. On the contrary, she said, California diverts so much water from its natural path and into artificial canals that many miles of rivers have dried up completely. She said this caused ecological collapse in the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary, the largest estuary on the west coast of the Americas.

“That’s not good for anyone — the people who live on these waterways, the people who rely on these waterways for healthy drinking water (e.g. low flows are contributing to increasing toxic algae outbreaks in the Delta), or the people who rely on healthy salmon runs for their livelihood,” Poole said. “The president seems to want to worsen these problems by diverting even more water away from the natural system to benefit corporate agriculture at the expense of everyone else.”

Accounting for dams and diversions, California’s water officials have been putting together proposals that would return a degree of “unimpaired flow” to return certain waterways, such as the San Joaquin River, to help native fish populations.

Northern California has been dealing with 100-degree weather for more than a month. Even before the heat wave, the vegetation — trees, brush, grass — was already extremely dry and highly vulnerable to fire. There have been erratic winds, and the humidity doesn’t rebound at night as it did years ago, so it can burn just as intensely at night as it does during the day, McLean said.

“We’re well ahead of our drying cycle by over two months,” he continued. “Firebrands, embers, sparks. It doesn’t take really anything to start a fire in the state right now.”

McLean said wildfire seasons like this one are becoming the norm.

“We were saying that last year. This is the normal currently. This is what we’re living. Everybody in the state needs to be responsible because it affects everybody.”

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who represents San Francisco, released a statement expressing sympathy for the nine people killed in the current wildfires and calling on Trump to expand a major disaster declaration for Shasta County to cover other counties affected by the fires.

“The Administration also must start taking real, urgent action to combat the threat of the climate crisis, which is making the wildfire season longer, more expensive and more destructive,” Pelosi said.

The U.S. Army is preparing to send 200 active-duty soldiers to fight fires in the West this week.

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