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California fires partly due to environmentalists, says U.S. Interior chief

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said the deadly wildfires that scorched areas in California and killed 81 people in the northern part of the state as of Tuesday were partly due to lawsuits from environmentalists who have sought to stop forest management practices, such as forest thinning.

Ryan Zinke says 'radical environmental groups' have brought lawsuits to stop forest management

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke on Tuesday blamed environmental groups in part for wildfires that have killed at least 77 people and destroyed thousands of homes in California. (Eric Thayer/Reuters)

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said the deadly wildfires that scorched areas in California and killed 81 people in the northern part of the state as of Tuesday were partly due to lawsuits from environmentalists who have sought to stop forest management practices, such as forest thinning.

"Radical environmental groups that would rather burn down the entire forest than cut a single tree or thin the forest," have brought lawsuits to stop forest management, Zinke told reporters in a teleconference about the California fires, the deadliest in the state's history. "Yes, I do lay it on the feet" of environmentalists, he said.

Zinke did not name the 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 were also to blame.

Zinke first said environmentalists were partially to blame on Breitbart News on Sunday after visiting the California wildfire zone.

Zinke said Germany was a model of forest management. A few days earlier, President Donald Trump had singled out another European country, Finland, as a leader in forest fire monitoring and prevention.

Trump, while visiting California Saturday, said Finland's President Sauli Niinisto recently told him the country rarely has wildfires because "they spend a lot of time raking and cleaning and doing things" to clear the forest floor. Niinisto has since said raking did not come up in his conversation with Trump.

The statement prompted mockery on social media from Finns and spawned the hashtag #RakeAmericaGreatAgain, which trended on Twitter.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said forest management practices need to be sped up and he hoped that U.S. agencies could get more authority under legislation.

But he said years of neglect mean it could take years for authorities to catch up on forest management, such as thinning out the fuel of dead trees and dry underbrush, and improving emergency roads.

With files from CBC News

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