Donald Trump left the president of Finland puzzled yesterday after suggesting that raking is part of the Scandinavian country’s routine for managing its substantial forests.
The US president told reporters while visiting the ruins of the Northern California town where a fire killed at least 76 people that wildfires were not a problem in Finland because crews “spend a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things” to clear forest floors.
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said yesterday in a newspaper that he spoke briefly with Mr Trump about forest management on 11 November when they both were in Paris for Armistice Day events.
Mr Niinisto said their conversation focused on the California wildfires and the surveillance system Finland uses to monitor forests for fires. He remembered telling Mr Trump “we take care of our forests” but could not recall raking coming up.
Forests cover more than 70 per cent of Finland’s 338,000 square kilometers. The Nordic country with a population of 5.5 million.
As hundreds of searchers continued to sift through rubble in the town of Paradise looking for the dead yesterday, nearly 1,300 people remain unaccounted for more than a week after the fire sparked in Butte County.
Mr Trump toured the area with California’s outgoing and incoming governors, both Democrats who have traded sharp exchanges with the Republican administration.
He also visited Southern California, where firefighters were making progress on a wildfire that tore through communities west of Los Angeles from Thousand Oaks to Malibu, killing three people.
“We’ve never seen anything like this in California, we’ve never seen anything like this yet. It’s like total devastation,” Mr Trump said as he stood amid the ruins of Paradise and pledged the full support of the federal government.
The president initially blamed state officials for poor forest management in exacerbating the fires and threatened to cut off federal funding.
Northern California’s Camp Fire has destroyed nearly 10,000 homes and burned 233 square miles. It is 55 per cent contained. The fire zone in Northern California is to some extent Trump country, and that enthusiasm was on display as dozens of people cheered and waved flags as his motorcade went by.
Kevin Cory, a wildfire evacuee who lost his home in Paradise, praised Mr Trump for coming to a state that is often at odds with the White House.
“I think that California’s been really horrible to him. I mean they’re suing him,” he said. “It’s back and forth between the state and the feds.”
But for the most part, survivors, some who had barely escaped and no longer had homes, were too busy packing what little they had left or seeking help to pay much attention to the president’s visit.