As Donald Trump downplays the role the climate emergency has played in the wildfires raging in three western states, he is sticking to his well-worn points about forest management – and citing “forest cities” in Europe as examples.
Arriving in California yesterday to discuss the response to the fires, Mr Trump told reporters waiting outside Air Force One that Europeans living in forests knew better than authorities in western states how to prevent disastrous fires.
“You go to Austria,” he said, “you go to Finland, you go to many different countries, and they don’t have — I was talking to a head of a major country, and he said, ‘We’re a forest nation. We consider ourself a forest nation.’ This was in Europe. I said, ‘That’s a beautiful term.’
“He said, ‘We have trees that are far more explosive…” – he meant “explosive” in terms of fire – ‘but we have trees that are more explosive they have in California, and we don’t have any problem because we manage our forests.’”
Mr Trump reiterated much of his rambling monologue the next morning during a 40-minute-plus on-air phonecall to Fox & Friends.
"You know, In Europe they have forest cities,” he told the hosts. “You look at, you look at countries, Austria, you look at so many countries, they live in the forest, they’re considered forest cities, so many of them.
“And they don't have fires like this, and they have more explosive trees. They have trees that will catch easier. But they maintain their fire, they have an expression, they ‘thin the fuel’, the fuel is what’s on the ground, the leaves, the trees that fall, they’re dry, they’re like a matchstick.”
This year’s wildfires are the most catastrophic to hit the western states in living memory, but Mr Trump has fixated on Finnish and Austrian forest floor management before. In 2018, when California faced another serious fire season, he claimed to have discussed “raking and cleaning” with the president of Finland, who later said he had no such recollection.
Plenty of attention was given to Mr Trump’s offbeat claim at the time, especially since Finland had that year gone without major forest fires even as they raged in neighbouring Sweden. However, then as now, the difference between Finland and badly-hit California seemed to come down in large part to weather conditions – and thus to the changing global climate.