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President Donald Trump's initial reaction on Twitter to the devastating wildfires now scorching California deserved the scornful response it drew from firefighters and other experts. 

Maybe you recall his first Tweet from Saturday: "There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor. Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!"

Later on Saturday, he tried to strike more of a conciliatory tone:  “Our hearts are with those fighting the fires, the 52,000 who have evacuated, and the families of the 11 who have died. The destruction is catastrophic. God Bless them all,” he wrote on Twitter.

On Sunday, though, Trump returned to the topic on Twitter: "With proper Forest Management, we can stop the devastation constantly going on in California. Get Smart!"

It is, of course, true that our national forests could use better management — and more resources devoted to maintenance of those lands could play a vital role in helping to reduce the intensity and frequency of these fires. 

That aside, Trump's statements on these California wildfires are misguided on a number of counts.

For starters, the wildfire that incinerated the Northern California town of Paradise is burning in areas that experienced fires in 2005 and 2008, so these are not "fuel-choked closed-canopy forests," in the words of University of Utah wildfire scientist Philip Dennison. 

And that fire burning in Southern California? It's not burning in a forest at all: Rather, it's burning through shrub land. "It's not about forest management," Dennison told The Associated Press. "These aren't forests."

Brian Rice, the president of the California Professional Firefighters, noted that wildfires don't just occur in forests: "Wildfires are sparked and spread not only in forested areas but in populated areas and open fields fueled by parched vegetation, high winds, low humidity and geography," he said. Wicked Santa Ana winds helped push these fires along with astonishing speed: At one point, a fire jumped over an eight-lane freeway.
 
Rice, with justification, ripped into Trump's not-so-veiled threat to withhold aid to the victims of the fires. And it's hard to see who would benefit from such a move, unless the president sees a need to somehow punish a state that didn't support him in 2016 — and seems extremely unlikely to support him in 2020. But Trump should remember that he's the president of all 50 states, not just the ones that he carried.
 
Fire scientists say that wildfires have become more devastating because of the extreme weather swings from global warming, and they point to big increases in the average number of U.S. acres burned each year by wildfires: That number has doubled in the last 30 years.

As of Monday, more than 13,200 square miles have burned in 2018. That's more than a third higher than the 10-year average.

From 1983 to 1999, the United States didn't reach 10,000 square miles burned annually, according to an AP story. Since then, 11 of 19 years have had more than 10,000 square miles burned, including this year. In 2006, 2015 and 2017, more than 15,000 square miles burned.

And not just in California: You might have noted with some alarm that firefighters in the Sweet Home area were summoned on Monday to deal with four slash burns that escaped after winds in the area picked up. Firefighters were able to quickly control all four. But, still, the notion that wildfires can get going in the mid-valley in mid-November serves as a stark reminder that fire season now is extending its reach well outside the summer months.
 
It's a new wildfire reality that we need to come to terms with, especially in the West. And it doesn't serve anybody well to race to ill-considered snap judgments about the factors that are driving wildfires. (mm)
 
 
 
 

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