The leader of Finland denied on Sunday that he’d ever told President Donald Trump that the small Nordic nation relies upon “raking” its forests to prevent wildfires — even though Trump promoted the conservation method during a visit to flame-ravaged California over the weekend.
“You look at other countries where they do it differently, and it’s a whole different story,” Trump said Saturday, standing alongside Governor Jerry Brown and Governor-elect Gavin Newsom of California among the charred ruins of the Skyway Villa Mobile Home and RV Park in the town of Paradise.
“I was with the president of Finland, and he said, ‘We have a much different — we’re a forest nation.’ He called it a forest nation,” Trump continued. “And they spent a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things, and they don’t have any problem. And when it is, it’s a very small problem. So I know everybody’s looking at that to that end. And it’s going to work out, it’s going to work out well.”
But President Sauli Niinistö of Finland told Ilta-Sanomat, the country’s second-largest newspaper, on Sunday that he never discussed raking with Trump during their brief meeting in Paris last weekend, where the leaders attended various commemorations marking the centennial of the armistice that ended World War I.
“I mentioned [to] him that Finland is a land covered by forests and we also have a good monitoring system and network,” Niinistö said, adding that he recalled telling Trump: “We take care of our forests.”
The Camp Fire in Northern California, the deadliest and most devastating wildfire in the state’s history, has resulted in at least 76 deaths and nearly 1,300 people missing. The fire, which is 55 percent contained, has destroyed nearly 10,000 homes and set ablaze 233 square miles, according to The Associated Press.
While in California, the president was reluctant to blame the effects of rising global temperatures for a series of increasingly devastating wildfires. Asked by reporters whether his visit to the fire zone had altered his opinions on climate change, Trump replied: “No. 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.”
The president has instead largely attributed the natural disasters to forestland mismanagement by California’s leaders. He was widely criticized by local officials last week for a tweet in which he threatened to withhold the state’s federal funding.
“There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor,” Trump wrote online. “Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!”
On Saturday, the president continued to emphasize the importance of working with environmental groups to improve forest maintenance, and pledged to “take care of the floors, you know, the floors of the forest.”
“I think everybody’s seen the light, and I don’t think we’ll have this again to this extent. We’re going to have to work quickly,” Trump said. “But a lot of people are very much — there’s been a lot of study going on over the last little while, and I will say I think you’re going to have — hopefully this is going to be the last of these because this was a really, really bad one.”
As news of Niinistö’s contradiction of Trump disseminated across social media on Sunday, Finns took to Twitter to post videos, pictures and memes accompanied by the word #haravointi, which translates from Finnish to English as “raking.”
“Just an ordinary day in the Finnish forest,” wrote @pyryluminen, who posted a photo of herself vacuuming leaves in a small clearing.
Another post featured a Photoshopped picture of Niinistö brandishing a rake in the Oval Office in an effort to “offer aid” following Trump’s warning of an “invasion” of incoming Central American migrants.
And a user from Wales wrote, “Now we know what Trump supporters wear to do forest work,” tweeting a picture of the president’s signature campaign baseball cap emblazoned with the words “Rake America Great Again.”