Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke blamed “environmental radicals” for the California wildfires that have killed at least 79 people and said that President Donald Trump had been “absolutely right” that forest mismanagement over the years had led to the destructive fires.
Days after touring the damage of the Camp Fire, the deadliest wildfire in California’s history, Zinke appeared on the Breitbart News Sunday radio show and declared “it’s not the time for finger-pointing” on the causes of the blazes.
But minutes later, Zinke said that “radical environmentalists” filed lawsuits aimed at letting “nature take its course” and that the deadly California wildfires were a result of them.
“I will lay this on the foot of those environmental radicals that have prevented us from managing the forests for years. And you know what? This is on them,” Zinke said.
“We have dead and dying timber. We can manage it using best science, best practices,” he continued. “But to let this devastation go on year after year after year is unacceptable, it’s not going to happen.”
“The president is absolutely right. This is as much about mismanagement over time,” he continued. The mismanagement problem has been “going on for years,” said Zinke, who also blamed the Obama administration.
“The president is absolutely engaged,” Zinke said. “Forests need active management.”
An attorney for a group of victims of the Camp Fire on Wednesday alleged that there’s “pretty overwhelming” evidence that California utility PG&E was at fault for the blaze. Cal Fire has stated that the cause of the fire remains “under investigation,” reports CNBC.
Oakland attorney Michael Danko pointed to witnesses as well as a PG&E safety incident report made to the California Public Utilities Commission about problems with equipment near where the fire is believed to have started.
“We have the neighbor who got the email concerning the sparking wires,” Danko said. “We have the witnesses who saw the fire start on a transmission line. And most importantly, we have the report that PG&E was required to make by law to the CPUC, reporting an outage minutes before the witnesses saw the fire start under the transmission lines. So the evidence already is pretty overwhelming.”
PG&E filed an electric safety incident report on Nov. 8 that indicated that the utility’s transmission line “experienced an outage” that morning. Then in the afternoon the utility “observed by aerial patrol damage to a transmission tower” located about “one mile north-east of the town of Pulga, in the area of the Camp Fire.”
The Sierra Club, the nation’s largest environmental group, blasted Zinke for his remarks.
“Perhaps it’s the numerous investigations, the potential criminal charges eating at him, or the fact that he still doesn’t even know what department the Forest Service is under, but Ryan Zinke would best be served by focusing on the people rather than making disgusting and dangerous accusations,” Athan Manuel, the group’s public lands director, said in a statement.
Zinke’s interview aired the day after the president toured Paradise, California, which was destroyed by the Camp Fire. Trump claimed that Finland did not have a wildfires problem like California’s because they spent resources on “raking and cleaning” their forest floors.
“You’ve got to take care of the floors. You know the floors of the forest, very important. You look at other countries where they do it differently, and it’s a whole different story,” Trump said. “I was with the president of Finland and he said, ‘We have a much different—we’re a forest nation.’ He called it a forest nation, and they spent a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things and they don’t have any problem.”
But Finnish President Sauli Niinistö later on Sunday told the Ilta-Sanomat newspaper that he brought up forest management and wildfires with Trump, but did not mention raking as a wildfire prevention technique.