President Donald Trump will travel to California on Saturday to meet with people affected by the wildfires burning across the state, the White House announced Thursday.
Hundreds of people remain unaccounted for and 58 people have died in the conflagrations, which have also caused billions of dollars in property damage.
The President’s plans for the visit, only his second as president, come after he initially criticized California forest management last weekend, shortly after the fires started, threatening to withhold federal emergency funds.
“There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor,” Trump tweeted on Saturday as he was in France for the commemoration of Armistice Day. “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 subsequently issued an emergency declaration and a major disaster declaration at the request of the state, and on Wednesday, he said he spoke with California Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat.
“Just spoke to Governor Jerry Brown to let him know that we are with him, and the people of California, all the way!” Trump tweeted.
Trump’s Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke expressed solidarity with state officials during a tour of the burn area.
“It’s going to take working together from the community all the way up to federal government and making sure that we do active forest management, we prioritize infrastructure, public safety, the roads, evacuation, and work together as a team,” Zinke said Thursday.
A day earlier, at a briefing with Brown, Zinke sidestepped questions about Trump’s earlier criticism and said the federal government and the state government are working together to fight the fires.
“We’re not finger-pointing here. We’re all in the same boat. Everyone loves California — I certainly do. I want to see California thrive. I want to see healthy forests and I want to go and have a steak dinner when the governor retires,” he said.
In August, Trump caused confusion after he claimed that California’s water, which could be used for firefighting, was instead “being diverted into the Pacific Ocean.” Following the tweet, Zinke wrote an op-ed calling for a more proactive approach to preventing wildfires.
Zinke’s spokeswoman, Heather Swift, said at the time that the department’s practice is to not comment on Trump’s tweets.