U.S. President Donald Trump suggested Saturday the widespread damage raging wildfires have inflicted on California could have been mitigated if state officials had acted more responsibly.
Trump's remarks came minutes before he embarked on a trip to California get an up-close look at the devastation and to meet with local officials and people whose lives have been impacted by the fires.
"We will be talking about forest management. I've been saying for a long time. This could have been a lot different situation but one thing is that everyone knows that this is what we have to be doing and there's no question about it. But I think everyone is on the right side. It's a big issue," Trump told reporters at the White House before departing.
Trump's visit comes a week after he initially blamed California officials for the wildfires and threatened to withhold federal money. His tweets did not mention California's drought conditions, which many scientists say are symptomatic of climate change.
California's outgoing governor, Jerry Brown, and incoming governor, Gavin Newsom, will join Trump in a survey of the destruction in both northern and southern California. Trump will also meet with federal emergency response officials and local firefighters.
Brown, U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Brock Long visited the northern city of Paradise on Wednesday. Brown blamed climate change and drought for the massive blaze, while Zinke cautioned against assigning blame to any one factor.
"Now is not the time to point fingers," Zinke said, saying dead trees, higher temperatures, and poor forest management were among the causes.
State officials say the number of people missing from the deadliest wildfire in California's history in and around Paradise has risen to more than 1,000 and say the death toll has increased to 71.
Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said Friday that a missing list which he released Thursday of 631 names has now increased to 1,011 names.
He stressed that list likely includes people who fled the fire and don't realize they have been reported missing, and said the list will likely fluctuate in number up and down. Kory urged people to inform authorities if they survived the fire.
Firefighters battling what is known as the Camp Fire gained ground Friday in containing and suppressing the flames.
More than 5,500 firefighting personnel continued to battle the blaze in the Paradise area Friday, one week after the deadly blaze erupted and quickly raced through the town of 27,000. The blaze reduced the town to ashes, destroying nearly 12,000 structures, including at least 9,700 homes, and still threatens thousands of additional structures.
As of Friday, the fire had burned some 590 kilometers and was 50-percent contained, officials said.
The blaze forced the evacuation of some 52,000 people who are staying in shelters, motels, homes of relatives and friends, and at a makeshift camp on a nearby Walmart parking lot and an adjacent field.
Officials said Friday that at least 25 people staying at shelters following the blaze have been hospitalized due to an outbreak of norovirus.
The cause of the Camp Fire remains under investigation, but officials say it may have been sparked by malfunctioning electrical equipment.
Wildfires are common in California, particularly at this time of year when warm, dry winds help fan the flames. At the southern end of California, firefighters and rescue workers have been grappling with other wildfires, including the Woosley Fire that killed three people and burned at least 500 structures near the Malibu coast near Los Angeles.
The Woosley Fire, which torched nearly 390 square kilometers, roughly the size of the western city of Denver, Colorado, was about 60-percent contained, allowing more residents to return to the area.