In a stark contrast from the weekend, President Donald Trump on Monday changed his tone, approving a major disaster declaration for California after threatening to pull funding from the state where three mass wildfires are currently burning across multiple communities and cities.
"I just approved an expedited request for a Major Disaster Declaration for the State of California. Wanted to respond quickly in order to alleviate some of the incredible suffering going on. I am with you all the way. God Bless all of the victims and families affected." Trump tweeted.
In a statement, the White House said the President's declaration paved the way for federal aid to supplement state, tribal and local recovery efforts in the areas affected by wildfires beginning on Nov. 8.
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Residents and business owners who sustained losses in the designated areas can begin applying for assistance tomorrow by registering online at http://www.DisasterAssistance.gov or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA(3362) or 1-800-462-7585 (TTY) for the hearing and speech impaired.
FEMA tweeted that the president's action makes federal funding available to affected individuals in the counties of Butte, Los Angeles and Ventura. Assistance will include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses.
The International Association of Fire Fighters called Trump's earlier comment about massive wildfires burning throughout California "irresponsible, reckless and insulting."
Trump said Saturday via Twitter that "there is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly fires in California." The president added that "billions of dollars were given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!"
On Sunday morning, Trump tweeted again about the fire, saying "with proper Forest Management, we can stop the devastation constantly going on in California. Get Smart!"
The firefighters union responded to what were Trump's first words about the wildfires, including a blaze that incinerated most of the Northern California town of Paradise and killed at least 29 people, saying that his "crass" suggestion in cutting off federal payments to the state "shows a troubling lack of real comprehension about the disaster at hand."
"The early moments of fires such as these are a critical time, when lives are lost, entire communities are wiped off the map and our members are injured trying to stop these monstrous wildfires," Harold Schaitberger, General President of the IAFF said in a statement.
Brian Rice, president of the California Professional Firefighters Association, called President Trump's statements about forest management "dangerously wrong."
"The president’s assertion that California’s forest management policies are to blame for catastrophic wildfire is dangerously wrong," Rice, head of the 30,000-member organization, said. "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. Moreover, nearly 60 percent of California forests are under federal management, and another two-thirds under private control. It is the federal government that has chosen to divert resources away from forest management, not California."
California governor-elect Gavin Newsom responded to the president's tweet saying that right now is not a time for partisanship.
"Lives have been lost. Entire towns have been burned to the ground. Cars abandoned on the side of the road. People are being forced to flee their homes," Newsom tweeted. "This is a time for coordinating relief and response and lifting those in need up."
California Rep. Henry Stern (D-27th district) addressed Trump's tweet Friday afternoon during a press conference in Southern California, saying "Fires don't respect politics or jurisdiction."
Stern requested that the president "pursue a major disaster declaration and not make this a political incident. We have many parties, many views out here, and this is not about politics. It's about people."
Trump took a more empathetic tone later in the day, tweeting sympathies for firefighters, people who have fled their homes and the families of those killed by the flames.
Wildfires also raged in Southern California, including the town of Thousand Oaks, where a gunman days earlier killed a dozen people at a local bar.
Trump earlier issued an emergency declaration providing federal funds to help firefighters.
Thousands of IAFF members have assisted in rescuing and evacuating people in direct path of the flames, according to the organization.
I just approved an expedited request for a Major Disaster Declaration for the State of California. Wanted to respond quickly in order to alleviate some of the incredible suffering going on. I am with you all the way. God Bless all of the victims and families affected. — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 13, 2018
CA: A major disaster declaration was just signed for Butte, Los Angeles, and Ventura counties providing individual and public assistance. #CampFire #HillFire #WhoolseyFire
We have teams on the ground in each county and will share details as they are available. #CAWildfires https://t.co/i4yqYpJYr0 — FEMA Region 9 (@femaregion9) November 13, 2018