Trump's interior secretary blames deadly California wildfires on ‘radical environmental groups’ who fight against forest thinning

Chris Riotta

The deadly California wildfires were exacerbated by “radical environmental groups” who have sought to reduce forest thinning, US Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke has said.

The Cabinet official in part blamed organisations who filed lawsuits in recent years to prevent certain forest management practices for the state's deadliest ever blaze.

Mr Zinke said the historic fires were the result of ‘“radical environmental groups that would rather burn down the entire forest than cut a single tree or thin the forest”.

“Yes, I do lay it on the feet,” of environmentalists, he added.

Remains of 79 victims have so far been recovered since the Camp Fire erupted earlier this month and largely obliterated the town of Paradise, a community of nearly 27,000 people. Fires in southern California have killed another three people.

Mr Zinke did not name specific groups, saying he did not want to finger point. He said other variables, such as hotter temperatures, historic drought conditions, and plenty of dead and dying trees also were also to blame.

His comments Tuesday echoed an interview he gave to right-wing website Breitbart this week in which he supported Donald Trump’s theory - refuted by state officials and experts - that the wildfires were worsened by poor forest management practices.

“The president is absolutely right. This is as much about mismanagement over time,” he said. “I will lay this on the foot of those environmental radicals that have prevented us from managing the forests for years and, you know what, this is on them.”

Meanwhile, California firefighters are still attempting to gain control of several fires raging across the state, with heavy rains raising the risk of mudslides throughout the region.

State officials warned people to be alert to the risk of sudden flows of debris down the scorched, denuded slopes of the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Smoke from the fires and poor air quality has lead to school closures, while flights in and out of San Francisco have experienced major delays and cancellations just before the Thanksgiving holiday.

“Although wildfire damage can be immeasurable, the danger is not over after the flames are put out,” the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said in a statement on Tuesday.

The remains of 79 victims have been recovered since the Camp Fire erupted on 8 November and largely obliterated the town of Paradise, a community of nearly 27,000 people about 175 miles (280 kilometres) north of San Francisco.

The Butte County Sheriff’s Office has tentatively identified 64 of the victims, while the missing persons list kept by the sheriff’s office still had 699 names on it as of Monday night.

That number has fluctuated dramatically in the past week, however, as additional people were reported missing and as others initially listed as unaccounted for either turned up alive or were identified among the dead.

As of early Tuesday, the fire had torched more than 151,000 acres of parched scrub and trees and incinerated about 12,000 homes, Cal Fire said.

Efforts to suppress the flames were likely to benefit from a storm expected to dump as much as 4 inches of rain north of San Francisco between late Tuesday and Friday.

Reuters contributed to this report