President Trump tours the Camp Fire disaster area
President Trump tours the Camp Fire disaster area with Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (left), Gov. Jerry Brown and Paradise Mayor Jody Jones. White House photo

President Donald J. Trump landed in Southern California Saturday with California Gov. Jerry Brown and Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom to tour areas destroyed by the Woolsey Fire.

Air Force One landed at Naval Base Ventura County Point Mugu at 3:07 p.m., and Trump exited the plane with Brown, Newsom, FEMA Administrator Brock Long and California Rep. Kevin McCarthy among others. The motorcade left the Naval Air Station at 3:24 p.m. and drove the president to Malibu, where he held a quick news conference with Brown and Newsom at the scene of burned-out buildings.

Trump repeated his theory that poor management of forests might have contributed to the size of the wildfires.

“It’s just a horrible thing and it’s been going on for a long time, and I think we’re going to come up with some plans and methods and mitigation. … I’m a strong believer that … a lot of cities are in forests if you look at Europe and other places. We have a lot of forest states where they’re mostly forests and they just don’t have this problem…” Trump said.

“California’s a very unique place, and it’s got some very unique leadership and some great leadership,” Trump continued as Newsom and Brown looked on. “… And we’re going to be working with the leadership, working with Gavin now for the most part, and I think we’re going to come to some pretty good conclusions and … a real solution to a pretty big problem.”

The president said that he’s “heard great things” about Newsom and thinks the two can work together, even pulling the governor-elect closer for a second handshake to prove his point.

Brown predicted that the “shock of all this is going to heighten our focus and attention, and also our cooperation.”

Brown added that California went from 300,000 people to more than 40 million relatively quickly and said the challenge for public officials would be to learn to “live with nature in a very creative and sophisticated way.”

“I think we’ll meet it. At least, Newsom will meet it — cause I’m going to be watching from the ranch,” Brown quipped to laughter.

Trump told reporters after the news conference that he was en route to Thousand Oaks to meet with survivors of the recent fatal nightclub shooting there.

Earlier Saturday, Trump visited Paradise to tour areas devastated by the Camp Fire.

Trump touched down at Beale Air Force Base north of Sacramento at 9:50 a.m. Saturday, flew from there to Chico Municipal Airport at around 10:55 a.m., then rode in a motorcade to Paradise, arriving at 11:35 p.m. to tour an RV park.

Brown and Newsom welcomed the president at Beale Air Force Base, putting aside policy differences and harsh criticism from both sides in the past.

“We welcome the president’s visit to California and are grateful for the quick response to our aid requests,” Brown and Newsom said in a joint statement posted to both of their Twitter accounts. “Now is the time to pull together for the people of California.”

Trump touched off a controversy Nov. 10 with a tweet that addressed the state’s wildfires.

“There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor,” the president tweeted. “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!”

That prompted a flood of angry reactions from public officials, including Newsom.

“Lives have been lost. Entire towns have been burned to the ground. Cars abandoned on the side of the road. People are being forced to flee their homes,” Newsom tweeted. “This is not a time for partisanship. This is a time for coordinating relief and response and lifting those in need up.”

And the president of the California Professional Firefighters, Brian Rice, tweeted: “The president’s message attacking California and threatening to withhold aid to the victims of 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. At a time when our every effort should be focused on vanquishing the destructive fires and helping the victims, the president has chosen instead to issue an uninformed political threat aimed squarely at the innocent victims of these cataclysmic fires. In my view this shameful attack on California is an attack on all our courageous men and women on the front lines.”

Trump followed his Nov. 10 tweet with two more tweets about the fires that day:

“These California fires are expanding very, very quickly (in some cases 80-100 acres a minute). If people don’t evacuate quickly, they risk being overtaken by the fire. Please listen to evacuation orders from State and local officials!”

“More than 4,000 are fighting the Camp and Woolsey Fires in California that have burned over 170,000 acres,” the president said. “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.”

Later, in Paradise, Trump said: “Law enforcement’s been beyond anything that anybody could have believed. To see what’s happened here, nobody every thought this could have happened. So the federal government is behind you, we’re all behind each other.

“Jerry and I have been speaking, and Gavin and I have now gotten to know each other.  We’re all going to work together and we’ll do a real job. But this is very sad to see.

“We have the greatest people in the world looking and helping,” Trump said. “Law enforcement, always. They never let us down. They never let us down.”

Then, according to a White House pool report, Trump briefly returned to the issue of forest maintenance.

“We do have to do management, maintenance. We’ll be working also with environmental groups. I think everybody’s seen the light,” Trump said. “Hopefully this is going to be the last one of these, because this was a really, really bad one.

“I know Gavin’s committed, we’re all committed, I’m committed to make sure that we get all of this cleaned out and protected. We’ve got to take care of the floors, you know the floors of the forest, it’s very important,” Trump said.

The president then mentioned that they do it different in Finland, “a forest nation.”

They spend a lot of time raking and cleaning and doing things, and they don’t have any problem, Trump said. “I know everybody’s looking at that.”

Since erupting Nov. 8 in Ventura County and quickly spreading into Los Angeles County, the Woolsey Fire has charred 98,832 acres and was 82 percent contained with full containment expected Monday. It has destroyed at least 836 structures and damaged 242 others, with about 70 percent of the burn area assessment complete.

The Camp Fire has killed at least 71 people and burned 148,000 acres.

After viewing the devastation in Malibu, the president returned to the Naval Base Ventura County Point Mugu and met with families of 12 people killed in the Nov. 7 shooting at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks and first responders.

“What can you say other than it’s so sad to see,” Trump told reporters. “These are great people. Great families, torn apart. We just hugged them and we kissed them, and it was very warm.

“It was tragic and yet in one way it was a very beautiful moment,” Trump said.

Air Force One took off from the naval base at 5:47 p.m.

Updated at 7:30 a.m., Sunday, Nov. 18

— City News Service

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.