PARADISE, Calif. — From the ashes of a mobile home and RV park, President Donald Trump said Saturday he came to the heart of California’s killer wildfire to fully grasp the scale of the desolation wrought on the landscape.
“We’re going to have to work quickly. … Hopefully this is going to be the last of these because this was a really, really bad one,” said the president, standing amid the crumpled foundations of homes and twisted steel of melted cars.
“I think everybody’s seen the light and I don’t think we’ll have this again to this extent,” Trump said in Paradise, the town largely destroyed by a wildfire ignited Nov. 8 that he called “this monster.”
With that bold and perhaps unlikely prediction, Trump pledged that improved forest management practices will diminish future risks. The declaration evoked his initial tweeted reaction to the fire, the worst in the state’s history, in which he seemed to blame local officials and threatened to take away federal funding.
When asked if seeing the historic devastation, which stretched for miles and left neighborhoods destroyed and fields scorched, altered his opinion on climate change, Trump answered, “No.”
The president has long voiced skepticism about man’s impact on the climate and has been reluctant to assign blame to a warming earth for the increase in the frequency and intensity of natural disasters.
At least 71 people died across Northern California, and authorities are trying to locate more than 1,000 people, though not all are believed missing. More than 5,500 fire personnel were battling the blaze that covered 228 square miles and was about 50 percent contained, officials said.
For Trump, it was a day to comfort a state grieving from twin tragedies, wildfires in both Northern and Southern California as well as a mass shooting at a popular college bar north of Los Angeles.
Wearing a camouflage “USA” hat, Trump gazed solemnly at the devastation in Paradise.
Several burned-out buses and cars were nearby. Trees were burned, their branches bare and twisted. Homes were totally gone; some foundations remained, as did a chimney and, in front of one house, a Mickey Mouse lawn ornament. The fire was reported to have moved through the area at 80 mph.
“It’s going to work out well, but right now we want to take of the people that are so badly hurt,” Trump said visiting what remained of the Skyway Villa Mobile Home and RV Park. He noted “there are areas you can’t even get to them yet” and the sheer number of people unaccounted for.
“I think people have to see this really to understand it,” Trump said.
The president later toured an operation centers, met with response commanders and praised the work of firefighters, law enforcement and representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“We’ve never seen anything like this in California,” he said. “It’s total devastation.”