Contrary to Viral Claim, Trump OK’d Aid for California Fires
By Saranac Hale Spencer
Posted on September 23, 2020
Facebook posts claim that President Donald Trump has withheld aid from California to fight wildfires, while offering help to Russia. That’s a rehash of a controversy in 2019, when Trump threatened to withhold aid from California, while offering help to Russia. The Trump administration has provided federal assistance to California for the recent wildfires.
Text posts on Facebook are spreading the falsehood that President Donald Trump has denied federal aid to California, while offering to help Russia fight wildfires.
But it’s a rehash of a 2019 controversy.
One version of the post that’s been shared more than 20,000 times claims: “Trump says No Aid for CA fires. But in July he offered to help Putin with fires in Russia.” That one went up on Sept. 17 and many similar posts followed.
Almost a month earlier, though, Trump had declared a major disaster in California and made federal relief funds available for areas affected by wildfires. That declaration has resulted in $7.7 million so far being allocated to those who were burned out of their homes or otherwise impacted, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA also has approved funding for firefighting equipment, supplies, and workers at more than a dozen fires so far. So, the first part of the claim is wrong.
The second part of the claim appears to be from more than a year ago. On July 31, 2019, the Kremlin announced that Trump had offered U.S. support in fighting Siberian wildfires at the time. The following day, Trump confirmed to reporters outside of the White House that he had offered assistance, saying, “we’re very good at putting out forest fires, frankly.”
We found no indication that the U.S. actually assisted Russia in fighting those fires.
Trump’s offer to help, though, showed up again in November 2019. Headlines compared it with Trump’s attitude toward California Gov. Gavin Newsom during the state’s fire season, which usually goes from late summer through the fall. The president had tweeted on Nov. 3, 2019, “Every year, as the fire’s rage & California burns, it is the same thing-and then he comes to the Federal Government for $$$ help. No more. Get your act together Governor.”
In a related tweet, Trump criticized Newsom, blaming poor forest management for the extent of the seasonal California fires — a claim that he had made the year before and that he made again this year. We explained at the time, though, that while forest management techniques can be helpful in reducing the severity of some wildfires, they aren’t effective for all ecosystems and the 2019 fires in California were exacerbated by hot, dry conditions with extreme winds.
Trump did not declare a major emergency for the 2019 fires in California, but the state did get federal assistance. FEMA approved aid — as it’s done this year, too — through Fire Management Assistance Declarations. Those declarations are requested by the state and authorized by the regional FEMA administrator, a role delegated by the president. They cover 75% of the cost for equipment, supplies, and labor spent fighting the fires.
While Trump did extend an offer to help Russia fight it’s wildfires in 2019, there’s no evidence that he did so again this year. Neither of the phone calls between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin that were reported on the Kremlin’s website this summer include references to the fires. Although NASA’s Earth Observatory described the blazes during Siberia’s 2020 fire season as “intense” and due to “abnormally warm temperatures.”
We asked the White House whether or not the president had extended the same offer in 2020, but we didn’t get a response.
Trump, Donald. “President Donald J. Trump Approves California Disaster Declaration.” Whitehouse.gov. 22 Aug 2020.
Federal Emergency Management Agency. California Wildfires (DR-4558-CA). Financial Assistance. Accessed 23 Sep 2020.
Kremlin. Press release. “Telephone conversation with US President Donald Trump.” Kremlin.ru. 31 Jul 2019.
Associated Press. “Trump offers Putin help fighting Russian wildfires.” YouTube.com. 6 Aug 2019.
Hutzler, Alexandra. “Russia Says Trump Once Offered to Help Putin Fight Wildfires—Now He’s Threatening to Withdraw Aid From California.” Newsweek. 5 Nov 2019.
Trump, Donald (@realDonaldTrump). “..Every year, as the fire’s rage & California burns, it is the same thing-and then he comes to the Federal Government for $$$ help. No more. Get your act together Governor. You don’t see close to the level of burn in other states…But our teams are working well together in…..” Twitter. 3 Nov 2019.
McDonald, Jessica. “Trump Again Misunderstands California’s Wildfires.” FactCheck.org. 8 Nov 2019.
NASA. “Another Intense Summer of Fires in Siberia.” Earth Observatory. Accessed 22 Sep 2020.
Federal Emergency Management Agency. Fire Management Assistance Grant Program Guide. Feb 2014.