WASHINGTON, Jan 9 (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday said he has ordered a halt to federal emergency funds for California to fight wildfires and manage its forests unless officials in the western U.S. state can "get their act together."
"Billions of dollars are sent to the State of California for Forrest fires that, with proper Forrest (sic) Management, would never happen. Unless they get their act together, which is unlikely, I have ordered FEMA to send no more money. It is a disgraceful situation in lives & money!" Trump wrote on Twitter.
Billions of dollars are sent to the State of California for Forest fires that, with proper Forest Management, would never happen. Unless they get their act together, which is unlikely, I have ordered FEMA to send no more money. It is a disgraceful situation in lives & money!
Insurance claims from the recent spate of California wildfires, including one ranked as the most deadly and destructive in state history, have topped $9 billion and are expected to grow, the state insurance commissioner reported last month.
RELATED: Harrowing images from California's Camp Fire
Harrowing images from California's Camp Fire
Harrowing images from California's Camp Fire
The Camp Fire charred 200 square miles in Northern California from Thursday, November 8, through Tuesday, November 13, 2018. (Image via Business Insider/Cal Fire)
At 9:23 a.m. Thursday, the Butte County Sheriff's Office sent out frantic tweets — first warning — then ordering residents to get out of the way of the flames. "What pisses me off is I don’t think they told everybody soon enough," resident Kim Benn said.
"I just kept watering the barn and watering any areas in the barn that caught on fire," she said. "It's a dangerous situation. I remember my son saying, 'Hey! There's no firefighters. We're on our own here.' I'm like, 'Yeah.' We were definitely on our own."
The blaze was so hot it melted metal. Allyn Pierce, a registered nurse, told The New York Times that he was in his truck sitting in traffic as a wall of fire approached. The registered nurse recorded a goodbye message to his family members, but a bulldozer cleared the way for him to escape just in time.
Instead of getting far away from Paradise, however, Pierce drove to help patients at the local hospital, where he manages the intensive care unit. "It’s completely traumatic," Pierce said about being trapped in his truck. "When I close my eyes at night, I see fire."
Erin McLaughlin, who lives a few miles north of Paradise, told the Times that she left her home Thursday morning with her 81-year-old neighbor, Elisabeth Mesones. The two got stuck in traffic outside Paradise and escaped their cars on foot after hearing propane-tank explosions nearby.
McLaughlin, Mesones, and roughly 75 other motorists gathered in the parking lot of a Chinese restaurant. "Everything was on fire all around you," McLaughlin said. "It was the most scary thing I’ve ever seen." The group escaped after six hours, but the restaurant later burned down.
Teresa Moniz was in the town of Magalia last Thursday when her husband, Albert Moniz, called to say flames were approaching their home in Paradise. Albert Moniz, who is disabled and does not own a cell phone, later called from a friend's house, but his wife has not heard from him since.
Wildfires are a natural part of California's ecosystems, but they have recently gotten stronger and caused more destruction as the state sees less rain and higher temperatures. Dry, hot conditions, which are partially caused by climate change, are becoming the new normal.
To make the situation worse, native plants such as Chaparral, which is a great fire buffer, have been cut down, and more non-native grasses and weeds have moved in, which are great fuel for fires. "Instead of trying to make the fires adapt to us, we have to create communities and live in situations where we allow the fires to burn around us, not through us," Rich Halsey from the California Chaparral Institute said.
The Camp Fire broke out on the morning of Nov. 8 near the mountain community of Paradise, California, sweeping through the town and killing at least 86 people, in the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in state history.
California utility company PG&E Corp is exploring filing some or all of its business for bankruptcy protection as it faces billions of dollars in liabilities related to fatal wildfires in 2018 and 2017, people familiar with the matter said on Friday. (Reporting by Susan Heavey Writing by Nick Zieminski Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Franklin Paul)