Trump falsely claimed that the California wildfires were fueled by trees that 'explode'

President Donald Trump speaks during a Latinos for Trump Coalition roundtable campaign event at Arizona Grand Resort & Spa, Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, in Phoenix.AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
  • President Donald Trump said during a televised briefing in Sacramento on Monday that "explosive trees" may have helped fuel the record-breaking wildfires.
  • Trees don't spontaneously burst into flames, so it's unclear exactly what Trump meant.
  • But Trump has long argued that wildfires could be eliminated if forests were cleaned of dead trees, leaves, and debris.
  • Scientists have said that changes in climate can lead to drier and warmer conditions that put regions at higher risks of wildfires.

President Donald Trump made the false claim that "explosive" trees helped fuel California's record-breaking wildfires.

While speaking during a televised briefing in Sacramento on Monday, he said dry trees can "just explode," as part of a longtime argument that wildfires would be eliminated if forests were cleared of dead trees and debris.

"You can knock this down to nothing," Trump said. "You go to Europe ... They're very, very strong on management, and they don't have a problem. With — as they say — more explosive trees than we have in California." Advertisement

He doubled down on the statement when calling into "Fox & Friends" on Tuesday morning, saying: "In Europe they have forest cities ... they don't have fires like this, and they have more explosive trees. They have trees that will catch easier, but they maintain their fire … They thin the fuel. The fuel is what's on the ground, the leaves."

More than 85 major fires are currently burning up and down the West Coast from California to Washington. Fires have burned more than a million acres in California this year and forced thousands of people out of their homes.

It's unclear what Trump meant when he said trees "explode," because trees don't spontaneously combust into flames. Officials say the current fires were caused by a range of things, from lightning strikes to an explosive gender-reveal party gone wrong.

The scientific community has said changes of climate can lead to drier and warmer conditions that put regions like California at higher risks of wildfires.

"If we ignore that science and sort of put our head in the sand and think it's all about vegetation management, we're not going to succeed together protecting Californians," California's secretary for natural resources, Wade Crawfoot, told Trump during the briefing. In August, Trump blamed California for the wildfires sweeping the state, saying he would withhold federal funds if officials didn't "clean" the forests.Advertisement

After Trump suggested raking up forests last year, Chris Field, director of the Stanford Wood Institute for the Environment, told the Associated Press that cleaning debris should not be the main solution.

"Yes. I agree with the president that fuel reduction and fire breaks are important," he said at the time. "But they are just the beginning. We also need to upgrade homes and businesses to make them more fire resistant, improve defensible spaces around buildings, and limit ignitions, including from downed power lines."