Ellen DeGeneres took a moment away from her usual celebrity fare on Wednesday to salute California firefighters who have been battling the state’s catastrophic blazes.
On the firefighters’ day off from battling the recent Getty and Maria fires, the talk-show host invited representatives from Cal Fire, the City Riverside, Santa Barbara County Fire and several other organizations to her program to thank them, but also to talk about fire safety and respond to President Trump’s criticisms of the state’s ongoing wildfire issues.
“These men and women are heroes every single day. They’ve saved my house and thousands of others and I want to meet a few of them today,” DeGeneres said.
DeGeneres found herself in harm’s way when the massive Thomas fire, then the largest wildfire in the state’s modern history, inched toward her Montecito estate last year. The blazes left it and the surrounding area vulnerable to devastating mudslides that wiped out homes and buried a portion of the 101 Freeway in 2018.
“We didn’t know it was your house until maybe the third day, and when we found out, it put a pep in our step,” said City of Riverside firefighter Eric LeBlanc, who was there to battle the flames while DeGeneres was under an evacuation order. He also got a chuckle out of the host when he mimicked DeGeneres’ dance moves as he demonstrated how they saved her home.
The officials addressed the ubiquity of the flames and said that fires popped up almost daily, averaging something like 200 a week and more than 5,000 wildfires this past year.
DeGeneres asked the firefighters to respond to President Trump lashing out over the state’s ongoing fire issues. Earlier this week, Trump again accused California Gov. Gavin Newsom of doing a “terrible job of forest management” and threatened to cut funding because he believed the fires were the state’s fault.
“It’s not out fault,” said Eric Peniata, the City of Riverside Fire captain. “We’re presented by dry winds and dry fuel moisture. We’re dealing with that on a constant basis. In the past, we used to have fire seasons that were a short period of time, and now our fire seasons are year-round. So dealing with that has been a change in the past five to 10 years.”
The severe wildfire conditions aren’t unique to California but are a worldwide phenomenon, added Cal Fire Capt. Liz Brown. She noted that firefighters in Kentucky, Florida and even those in Australia and Chile “are having the same fire seasons we are actually, so it’s not a California problem. It’s absolutely a global problem.”
DeGeneres, who does not shy away from criticizing Trump, said cutting funding would be “a disastrous thing.”
“It’s there to help people. It’s not even going into our budget to fight fire,” said Cal Fire Battalion Chief Lucas Spelman. “These are funds that are going in to help people after the fires. That doesn’t help us fight the fires any better.”
As a show of appreciation, DeGeneres and sponsor Nature Valley donated $250,000 to the California Fire Foundation to aid their efforts.