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Trump sees wildfire areas, consoles those harmed by shooting

President Trump was joined by Governor-elect Gavin Newsom, Governor Jerry Brown, and Paradise Mayor Jody Jones.
President Trump was joined by Governor-elect Gavin Newsom, Governor Jerry Brown, and Paradise Mayor Jody Jones. Tom Brenner/New York Times

PARADISE, Calif. — President Trump on Saturday acknowledged Californians suffering from twin tragedies, walking through the ashes of a mobile home and RV park in a small northern town all but destroyed by deadly wildfires and privately consoling people grieving after a mass shooting at a popular college bar outside Los Angeles.

‘‘This has been a tough day when you look at all of the death from one place to the next,’’ Trump said before flying back to Washington.

Trump’s visits to areas of Northern and Southern California in the aftermath of unprecedented wildfires that have killed dozens of people gave him what he sought in flying coast to coast and back in a single day — a grasp of the desolation in the heart of California’s killer wildfires.

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‘‘We’ve never seen anything like this in California, we’ve never seen anything like this yet. It’s like total devastation,’’ Trump said as he stood amid the ruins of Paradise, burned to the ground by a wildfire the president called ‘‘this monster.’’

Hours after Trump surveyed the devastation in Paradise, authorities raised the death toll to 76 and warned people being let back into previously evacuated areas to watch out for any remains.

Before returning to Washington, Trump met briefly at an airport hangar with families and first responders touched by the shooting at the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks more than a week ago, which left 12 dead in what Trump called ‘‘a horrible, horrible event.’’ Reporters and photographers were not allowed to accompany the president to the session, which Trump later described as emotional.

‘‘What can you say other than it’s so sad to see. These are great people. Great families, torn apart,’’ he told reporters. ‘‘We just hugged them and we kissed them — and everybody. And it was very warm.’’

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He added: ‘‘It was tragic and yet, in one way, it was a very beautiful moment.’’

Trump had made only one previous trip as president to California, a deeply Democratic and liberal state that he has blamed for a pair of overheated crises, illegal immigration and voter fraud. He also has been at odds with the state’s Democrat-led government, but differences were generally put aside as Governor Jerry Brown and Governor-elect Gavin Newsom joined Trump in surveying the wildfire damage.

‘‘We’re going to have to work quickly,’’ Trump said near the crumpled foundations of Paradise homes and twisted steel of melted cars. ‘‘Hopefully this is going to be the last of these because this was a really, really bad one.’’

In a nod to his belief — not shared by all forest scientists — that improved forest management practices will diminish future risks, Trump added: ‘‘I think everybody’s seen the light and I don’t think we’ll have this again to this extent.’’

With that bold and perhaps unlikely prediction, Trump evoked his initial tweeted reaction to the fire, the worst in the state’s history, in which he seemed to blame local officials and threatened to take away federal funding.

Hours later and hundreds of miles to the south, Trump found similar signs of devastation in the seaside conclave of Malibu, one of the areas of Southern California ravaged by wildfires that have killed at least three. Palm trees stood scorched and some homes were burned to the ground on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

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At least 71 people have died across Northern California, and authorities are trying to locate more than 1,000 people, though not all are believed missing. More than 5,500 fire personnel were battling the blaze that covered 228 square miles and was about 50 percent contained, officials said.

When asked in Paradise whether seeing the historic devastation, which stretched for miles and left neighborhoods destroyed and fields scorched, altered his opinion on climate change, Trump answered, ‘‘No.’’

The president has long voiced skepticism about man’s effect on the climate and has been reluctant to assign blame to a warming earth for the increase in the frequency and intensity of natural disasters.

Wearing a camouflage ‘‘USA’’ hat, Trump gazed solemnly at the devastation in Paradise. Several burned-out buses and cars were nearby. Trees were burned, their branches bare and twisted. Homes were totally gone; some foundations remained, as did a chimney and, in front of one house, a Mickey Mouse lawn ornament. The fire was reported to have moved through the area at 80 mph.

‘‘It’s going to work out well, but right now we want to take care of the people that are so badly hurt,’’ Trump said while visiting what remained of the Skyway Villa Mobile Home and RV Park. He noted ‘‘there are areas you can’t even get to them yet’’ and the sheer number of people unaccounted for.

‘‘I think people have to see this really to understand it,’’ Trump said.

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The president later toured an operation center, met with response commanders, and praised the work of firefighters, law enforcement, and representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.