Trump praises first-responders as FEMA head tours fire-devastated California

By Danielle Haynes  |  Oct. 18, 2017 at 5:30 PM
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Oct. 18 (UPI) -- President Donald Trump on Wednesday offered praise for first-responders battling wildfires across California as the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency toured the fire-ravaged region.

FEMA Director Brock Long met with California Gov. Jerry Brown as well as other local and state officials working on recovery from the fires, some of which still blaze in Northern California.

On Tuesday, he visited disaster assistance centers in Sonoma and Napa counties.

"What disturbs me most is seeing the urban nature of the wildfire and what it can do to hundreds of homes in an area," he said during a news conference in Napa County. "You don't see that very often, and it is pretty disturbing."

The Wall Street Journal said federal agencies have provided ambulances and workers for debris removal, and federal officials have promised services to evacuees and possibly rental assistance for those who didn't have insurance.

Trump said Wednesday that his heart was "with all affected by the wildfires in California."

"God bless our brave First Responders and @FEMA team. We support you!" he said on Twitter.

It's been a busy few months for FEMA under the relatively new leadership of Long. Since August, the agency has responded to three major hurricanes making landfall in the United States as well as the massive fires in California.

The federal government faced criticism -- including a fiery speech by San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz leveled directly at Trump -- that its response in Puerto Rico was slower after Hurricane Maria than it had been weeks before when hurricanes affected Texas and Florida. Trump blamed the slow recovery on the logistics of sending aid to Puerto Rico, an island, and on the territory's existing infrastructure and financial problems.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders on Wednesday said the Trump administration "has been very engaged" in California and the fact that he has not visited the state during its emergency "does not indicate any lack of interest."

She said no trip has been planned for the president but it has not been ruled out, either.

The devastating fires have caused 41 deaths so far and an estimated $3 billion in property damage. They have burned more than 220,000 acres and damaged or destroyed at least 5,700 structures, including many homes.

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