As first responders battled raging fires and 250,000 Southern Californians fled for safety — many watching their homes go up in flames overnight — celebrities and firefighter organizations condemned President Trump for his erroneous and “heartless” Twitter statements about the Camp and Woolsey fires that have devastated countless lives across the state.
“There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor,” Trump tweeted Saturday while in Paris. “Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!”
Trump’s tweet was met with a swift and vocal rebuke online.
“Our National Embarrassment can’t bring himself to show some empathy to Californians dealing with a horrific disaster,” tweeted John Legend, who himself thanked “our brave firefighters doing dangerous work.”
“This is an absolutely heartless response,” tweeted Katy Perry. “There aren’t even politics involved. Just good American families losing their homes as you tweet, evacuating into shelters.”
“This man is demented. Never stop saying it,” tweeted director Ava DuVernay.
Actor Zach Braff emphasized the tragic losses suffered by the families caught in the Woolsey fire’s unpredictable path of destruction, across Simi Valley, Thousand Oaks, Calabasas, Agoura Hills and Hidden Hills communities to the Malibu shoreline.
“Honestly thought this one was from a parody account,” tweeted Braff. “The city is on fire and people and animals are dying.”
As of late Friday night the fire had destroyed scores of homes and displaced hundreds of thousands of residents.
Saturday morning, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department confirmed at least two dead as firefighters continued battling blazes.
Former first lady of California Maria Shriver also chided Trump for his lack of compassion for fire victims and urged action: “As fires burn, as families and lives are upended, the last thing we need is the president criticizing our state. Just get us the help we need. Do it now.”
According to experts and firefighters, Trump’s tweet about the fires was not just poorly timed, but erroneous.
“Mr. President, with all due respect, you are wrong. The fires in So. Cal are urban interface fires and have NOTHING to do with forest management,” tweeted the Pasadena Firefighters Assn. “Come to SoCal and learn the facts & help the victims.”
“The president’s message attacking California and threatening to withhold aid to the victims of the cataclysmic fires is Ill-informed, ill-timed and demeaning to those who are suffering as well as the men and women on the front lines,” California Professional Firefighter Assn. President Brian Rice said in a statement, calling Trump’s tweet a “shameful attack on California” and “an attack on all our courageous men and women on the front lines.”
Following the backlash, Trump followed up his initial tweet. “More than 4,000 are fighting the Camp and Woolsey Fires in California that have burned over 170,000 acres,” he tweeted Saturday afternoon. “Our hearts are with those fighting the fires, the 52,000 who have evacuated, and the families of the 11 who have died. The destruction is catastrophic. God Bless them all.”
Several news organizations including The Times as well as Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti report the number of evacuees as much higher, at 250,000 in the Woolsey fire alone.