The president of Finland said Sunday that he didn’t recall mentioning the use of raking to prevent wildfires during a brief interaction with President Donald Trump earlier this month, despite the U.S. leader’s assertion that it spent “a lot of time on raking and cleaning” their forests.
“I mentioned [to] him that Finland is a land covered by forests and we also have a good monitoring system and network,” Finnish President Sauli Niinistö told his country’s newspaper, the Ilta-Sanomat. He said he didn’t remember raking as a topic of conversation but said the Finns “take care of our forests.”
Trump prompted widespread confusion this weekend during his tour of California to view the devastation left in the wake of the Camp fire in Northern California. At a news conference, the president proffered that officials had to “take care of the floors” to keep forests from burning and said Niinistö told him the Finns had a vastly different strategy that helped them quell wildfires.
“I was with the president of Finland and he said, ‘We have a much different —we’re a forest nation,’” Trump said Saturday. “He called it a forest nation, and they spent a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things. And they don’t have any problem. And when they do, it’s a very small problem.”
Many were flummoxed by the president’s claims and experts quickly moved to cast them as misleading. A forest fires expert at the Finnish Interior Ministry told The New York Times that raking isn’t a normal practice in Finland (70 percent of which is covered by forest) but that the country removes dead trees when possible.
“Of course, we have a big country and we can’t do it everywhere,” the expert, Rami Ruuska, told the Times. The outlet noted that the Finnish climate is also vastly different from California’s, far colder and not nearly as dry.
The country also has an active early-warning system that includes aerial surveys to alert the public of any imminent threat.
Trump was also roundly lambasted for telling reporters this weekend that his opinion of climate change hadn’t been changed by the scope of the fire.
“No. No. I have a strong opinion,” the president said, before adding: “I want great climate. We’re going to have that, and we’re going to have forests that are very safe.”
As the Camp fire first began to spread last week, the president initially moved to blame the blaze on what he called the “gross mismanagement” of forests and threatened to cut off federal aid. He offered no condolences at the time.
CORRECTION: This story mistakenly identified Finland as a Scandinavian country. It is, in fact, a Nordic state.