President Donald Trump appears to believe that forest fires, such as those that have devastated parts of California this month, can be prevented with some judicious raking—and he believes he believes this because the Finnish president told him so.
However, the president of Finland has no idea what Trump is going on about.
“You’ve got to take care of the floors. You know the floors of the forests, it’s very important,” Trump said amid the ruins of the town of Paradise, which was entirely razed by the Camp Fire. He added that President Sauli Niinisto of the “forest nation” of Finland told him “they spent a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things, and they don’t have any problem.”
Niinisto subsequently told the Associated Press that at last week’s Armistice Day commemoration in Paris, he said to Trump, “We take care of our forests,” but he didn’t mention raking.
Scientists say wildfires such as the Camp Fire are made more likely by global warming. However, Trump, a climate change skeptic, reiterated his opposition to this view in a Sunday Fox News interview, in which he said: “No. I have a strong opinion. I want great climate. We’re going to have that, and we’re going to have forests that are very safe.”
Finns were certainly amused by the idea that their country, which is larger than New Mexico and is also three-quarters forest, avoids wildfires through widespread raking.
Finland has a notably different climate from dry California, being more than 20 degrees further to the north than the region hit by the Camp Fire. However, the country has very few forest fires even compared to neighboring Sweden, which had bad fires this year. Some even argue that Finland has too few forest fires, from a biodiversity point of view.
The Finnish resistance to forest fires is not due to raking, but rather the country’s extensive forest road network—which helps firefighters move quickly and also slows down fires—and the fact that so much of the Finnish forest is privately owned. That means many small sections of the forest are cleared or thinned out, and therefore don’t easily let fires spread. Finland is also full of rivers, lakes and wetlands.