Donald Trump’s weekend visit to fire-ravaged California has prompted a withering barrage of ridicule and anger after he suggested the state should copy Finland in raking forest floors to prevent a repeat of wildfires that have killed at least 76 people.
He claimed he had received the tip from the president of Finland, who promptly said he could not remember offering such advice.
“You gotta take care of the floors. You know the floors of the forest, very important,” said Mr Trump during his trip.
“I was with the president of Finland and he called it a forest nation, and they spend a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things and they don’t have any problem.”
But in an interview published in the Ilta-Sanomat newspaper, Sauli Niinisto said he told his American counterpart that the secret lay in an extensive monitoring system.
“Finland is a country covered by forests but we also have a good surveillance system and network" in case of wildfires, ran his account of their conversation last week, according to the Ilta-Sanomat newspaper.
Even before those comments, Mr Trump received a barrage of criticism for a tone-deaf response to a state hurting badly from the human and economic impact of its most deadly wildfire in history, and where almost 1300 people are listed as missing.
He was condemned for blaming officials working to prevent more loss of life and mocked for comparing arid California with a Nordic country where melting snow causes springtime floods.
Veli Pekka Kilimaki, a Finnish defence researcher, tweeted: “I perhaps wouldn't compare Finland and California climate-wise… And besides, 80% of the country is classified as forest land. We don’t exactly manicure all of it.”
An army of Finns posted photographs showing how they spent their weekends, rake in hand, working to prevent forest fires.
The liberal New York Daily News headlined its front page “Make America rake again”, in a play on Mr Trump’s election slogan.
Northern California's Camp Fire has so far destroyed nearly 10,000 homes and blackened 233 square miles. Firefighters say it is 55 percent contained.
Strong winds yesterday complicated their efforts but they hope 4in of rain forecast for midweek will slow the spread. However, it could also bring the risk of mudslides.
Five more bodies were found on Saturday, as Mr Trump flew in to tour the affected region.
He was accompanied by the state’s outgoing and incoming governors, both Democrats who have traded barbs with the Republican administration – often on climate change.
Jerry Brown, the outgoing governor, told CBS’s Face the Nation they had set their differences aside. “He’s got our back,” he said on Sunday.
But he offered a bleak vision of the future.
“If you're going to live this close to the forest, if the climate is going to keep changing, you're going to have to build some kind of underground shelters, so that you can go in and protect yourself,” he said.
He has been credited with taking steps to tackle dangerously overgrown forests, signing a law approving $1 billion for controlled burns and other thinning measures.
Even so, Mr Trump has repeatedly blamed management practices for the massive fire, attracting the ire last week of the body that represents 30,000 of the state’s firefighters.
Brian Rice, president of California Professional Firefighters, described his comments as "ill-informed, ill-timed and demeaning to those who are suffering as well as the men and women on the front lines”.