Trump Declares California Wildfires a Major Disaster

August 23, 2020 Updated: August 23, 2020

President Donald Trump declared the wildfires raging in California a major disaster, which will allow federal funds to be used by people and businesses harmed by the fires in seven counties to pay for temporary housing, home repairs, and other needs.

More than two dozen massive wildfires continued to ravage parts of California on Aug. 23, fueled by high temperatures and ongoing lightning strikes, including 100 on Aug. 21, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire).

The president had previously threatened to withhold federal funding due to California’s failure to manage its forests.

“I said, you gotta clean your floors, you gotta clean your forests—there are many, many years of leaves and broken trees and they’re like, like, so flammable, you touch them and it goes up,” the president said at a rally on Aug. 20. “Maybe we’re just going to have to make them pay for it because they don’t listen to us.”

The declaration opens up federal funds to people in the counties of Lake, Napa, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Solano, Sonoma, and Yolo.

The wildfires have already claimed five lives; 43 firefighters and civilians have been injured, according to CalFire.

Wildfires are threatening parts of the San Francisco Bay Area, the forested region near the University of California at Santa Cruz, and a wide swath of the area between San Francisco and Sacramento, the state capital.

California asked other states and local jurisdictions in California for help, as nearly 14,000 firefighters battled the blazes but haven’t contained the largest fires.

“They’re scrambling for bodies” to help, said Jay Tracy, a fire marshal with the city of Fresno who was deployed as a spokesman for the LNU fire complex. The LNU fire complex has burned 314,000 acres in five counties, including some of the state’s storied wine country and communities between San Francisco and Sacramento.

Firefighters have improved containment of the southern edge of that fire, but winds are expected to push it northwest toward the wine country towns of Healdsburg and Guerneville, Tracy said.

Additional lightning storms are expected on Aug. 24, and the danger of new or growing wildfires is extreme, CalFire spokesman Daniel Berlant said.

The fires increased modestly in size on Aug. 22 after more than doubling a day earlier, becoming some of the largest in state history and threatening small towns in the path of the flames.

While about 175,000 people were told to leave their homes, many in the community around Vacaville between Sacramento and San Francisco have been allowed to return.

In Santa Cruz, a city of roughly 65,000 people on California’s central coast, residents were told to prepare “go bags” as bulldozers cut fire lines, and flames came within a mile of the University of California–Santa Cruz campus.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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