Finland's President Sauli Niinistö contradicted President Donald Trump's claim that he told him that "raking leaves" will prevent forest fires.
Niinistö said he doesn't remember mentioning raking leaves with Trump, though he acknowledged they did discuss the forest fires currently raging in California when they met in Paris in early November.
"I mentioned [to] him that Finland is a land covered by forests and we also have a good monitoring system and network," Niinistö told reporters with Finnish newspaper lta-Sanomat, noting that he said "we take care of our forests" during their conversation.
Trump made the claim while visiting Paradise, California, with California Governor Jerry Brown, California Governor-elect Gavin Newsom, and Paradise Mayor Jody Jones. He was asked what could be done to prevent a similar disaster in the future.
"You gotta take care of the floors. You know? The floors of the forest. Very important," Trump responded. "I was with the President of Finland and he said, 'We have a much different — we're a forest nation.' He called it a 'forest nation.' And they spend a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things, and they don't have any problem. And when it is, it's a very small problem."
"They spend a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things, and they don't have any problem": Pres. Trump su… https://t.co/LYdpDEmEhQ— CBS News (@CBS News) 1542590420.0
The president has been criticized for his remarks. He has denied climate change's role in wildfires. The Camp Fire in Butte County in Northern California, has killed more than 70 people. More than 1,200 others are missing. The Woolsey Fire in Southern California has killed three people. Hundreds of thousands of acres of land have been destroyed by the fires.
Comforter-in-chief adds insult, ignorance to injury. Denies climate change‘s role in wildfires. In Paradise, Trum… https://t.co/1c0XXQJDD8— Jacob Soboroff (@Jacob Soboroff) 1542549477.0
California will not follow Trump’s advice about anything, so we won’t be raking our forests. Trump doesn’t know any… https://t.co/dfykQb9GOt— John Dean (@John Dean) 1542563409.0
The people of Finland are fighting back with humor, tweeting images of themselves and others raking leaves in the forest. Some have used the hashtag #haravointi, which translates to "raking" in English.
Just an ordinary day in the Finnish forest ~ Ihan normipäivä suomalaisessa metsässä #Trump #forest #firesafety… https://t.co/mU44zuvoXc— Pyry Luminen (@Pyry Luminen) 1542550421.0
The Finnish people have taken to their rakes en masse this weekend! Click on #haravointi (raking) to see their post… https://t.co/LwEKWXOiFH— Fiona Bateman (@Fiona Bateman) 1542577078.0
Greetings from #Finland! Just taking a break from raking leaves and having a lunch. We have the best rakes in the w… https://t.co/U71Wm9GH9L— Kristiina Vahvaselkä (@Kristiina Vahvaselkä) 1542557889.0
There is speculation that it was Fox News and not Niinistö who gave the president the raking idea.
“I was watching the firemen the other day, and they were raking areas. They were raking areas!” Trump told Fox News from the Oval Office before leaving for California on Friday. “They’re raking trees, little trees like this — nut trees, little bushes, that you could see are totally dry. Weeds! And they’re raking them. They’re on fire. That should have been all raked out. You wouldn’t have the fires."
Representative Ted Lieu (R-CA) said he hopes the president "consults some experts" instead of voicing theories that are not based in scientific fact.
“If preventing wildfires were as easy as raking leaves, we would have done that by now, but it is a very complicated issue," he said. “I hope the president consults some experts, maybe talks to folks who actually know something about wildfires, and really stop believing these bizarre theories that he has.”
Yana Valachovic, a forest adviser with the University of California’s Cooperative Extension program, says Trump's "general sentiment is correct — that we need to manage fuels," but that the issue is far more complicated than he lets on. “And yeah, managing that pine litter adjacent to our homes and buildings is super important. … But the reality is, to manage every little bit of fuel with a rake is not practical.”
Valachovic notes that raking is an effective way to clear debris like leaves and pine needles from residences, but that it's less useful in forests, where fires rage through brush and large debris more easily cleared by heavy machinery. The issue is solveable with "long-term programs of community education, controlled burns, forest thinning and economic incentives," she said.