[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1993, Book II)]
[October 30, 1993]
[Pages 1864-1866]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Teleconference Remarks on the California Fires
October 30, 1993

    The President. Hello?
    James Lee Witt. Good morning, Mr. President.
    The President. Have we got James Lee?
    Mr. Witt. Yes, sir. I have Roger Johnson with me, the Administrator 
of GSA, at the disaster field office here in Pasadena. Secretary Espy is 
also on, who is at the Oak Grove fire camp in southern California.
    Secretary Espy. Hello, Mr. President.
    The President. Hello, Secretary Espy. How are you?
    Secretary Espy. How are you doing, sir? I'm at the Oak Grove fire 
camp near Altadena, California.
    Mr. Witt. Also, Mr. President, we have Senator Feinstein and Senator 
Boxer on, and Dick Andrews, the California director of emergency service 
is here in the disaster field office with Roger and I.

[[Page 1865]]

[At this point, Mr. Witt, Director of the Federal Emergency Management 
Agency, reported on conditions in California and discussed Federal, 
State, and private efforts to deal with the disaster.]

    The President. That's good. That's very good.

[Mr. Andrews discussed the improvement in weather conditions, the number 
of fires still burning, and deployment of State and Federal resources to 
fight the fires. Mr. Witt then asked if the President had any 

    The President. No. I want to say before I go on to Secretary Espy 
that I have just been terribly impressed by the work of the people who 
have been out there fighting the fires. I know that we have provided 
from the Federal Government a lot of the firefighters. And of course, 
there have been the folks here at the local level. But it's been really 
amazing to me just to watch and see how hard they've worked.
    As you know, Mack McLarty, who is here with me now, has been 
coordinating this from our end, so I've been pretty well briefed all 
along. I also want to say I'm very pleased that the Insurance 
Association is going to have people in the disaster assistance area. 
That's something, as you well know, James Lee, all of us could have used 
for years. And that's a very, very good sign, and I thank them.
    Maybe I should hear from Secretary Espy and Roger Johnson and 
Senator Boxer and Senator Feinstein, and maybe then I'll see if we've 
got any questions.

[Secretary Espy reported to the President on the Kinneloa fire, the 
highest priority fire at that time, and the efforts of firefighters.]

    The President. How much Federal land have we lost out there?
    Secretary Espy. Oh, gosh. We've got 150,000 or so acres already 
    The President. But a lot of it belongs to the Federal Government, 
doesn't it?
    Secretary Espy. Yes, sir.
    The President. Twenty thousand or thirty thousand acres, something 
like that?
    Secretary Espy. We've got two major national forests out here, and 
it's under pretty good attack here. The problem in the future, of 
course, once the fires have receded, is revegetating and reseeding, 
making sure that in the Forest Service area, we can do a lot of 
rehabilitation. And so that's what we've got to turn our attention once 
the immediate situation abates.
    The President. Well, we should be able to help California with that.
    Secretary Espy. Yes, sir.
    The President. We know how to do that.
    Secretary Espy. We are. The Soil Conservation Service will be taking 
the lead in the rehabilitation exercises out here.
    The President. Is Jim Lyons out there with you?
    Secretary Espy. Jim Lyons is here. He's been here for a couple of 
days. Now, he's a little bleary-eyed, he had to get up this morning to 
do a bunch of things, but----
    The President. He used to be a firefighter, didn't he?
    Secretary Espy. Yes, he said he did. We're in a place that looks 
like a----
    The President. We just thought he ought to have a little continuing 
education. [Laughter]
    Secretary Espy. That's right. We need those pale guys to get their 
hands dirty every now and then.
    The President. I really appreciate you, Mike. Thank you.
    Secretary Espy. Well, thank you. Thank you. I just can't say enough 
about the good work. It's very prompt, very vigorous, effective. And you 
know, they've been out here from day one, many without sleep, without 
rest, and it's just incredible to be here. It's great.
    The President. Is Roger Johnson on?
    Roger Johnson. He's here, Mr. President. Good morning.
    The President. You saved your home, didn't you?
    Mr. Johnson. Yes, sir. They saved it.
    The President. Congratulations.

[Mr. Johnson gave a brief description of the General Services 
Administration's disaster response and a personal view of the losses and 
firefighting efforts.]

    The President. That's great. How many homes were lost, 350 in Laguna 
    Mr. Johnson. Yes. About 700 overall, I think. Jumped into an area, 
Emerald Bay, where we used to live. So there were a lot of our friends 
there, and I think the home we used to live in is gone as well.

[Mr. Witt reported on plans for Federal and State authorities to meet 
with California insurance associations to provide for special needs in 
the application centers.]

[[Page 1866]]

    The President. Thank you very much.
    Senator Feinstein, Senator Boxer?
    Senator Feinstein. Good morning, Mr. President. How are you?
    The President. I'm fine.

[Senator Feinstein described the mobilization and organization of State 
firefighting strike teams and Firescope, a unified command of Federal, 
State, and local authorities to deal with the disaster.]

    The President. Thank you. Thank you, Senator.
    James Lee, I think you and Mike----
    Senator Boxer. Do you have room for one more Senator?
    The President. Yes. I'm going to call in just a minute. I just 
wanted to say to James Lee and Mike Espy, I think you ought to make a 
recommendation to me on what we should do on this unified command issue 
after you get back.
    Senator Boxer, the floor is yours.

[Senator Boxer described the devastation, commended FEMA for its 
response to the disaster, and expressed her thanks to the President.]

    The President. Thank you, Senator. I want to thank both the 
Senators. And, Dick Andrews, I thank you, and through you Governor 
Wilson, you tell him that if there's anything else we can do, you just 
pick up the phone and call.
    And, to Roger Johnson and Secretary Espy and to James Lee Witt, I 
thank you all for your quick response, and I can't wait to talk to you 
some more in person after the fire dies down some more and we make sure 
that we don't forget them when the fire's gone. We'll be there for the 
    I thank you all, and I hope you have a good day and keep those winds 
away out there. Thank you. Goodbye.

[At this point, the teleconference ended.]

    Q. Are you going to California?
    The President. I don't know that yet. We're going to monitor the 
winds today. That's the big issue. I don't want to be in the way out 
there. They've got a lot of work to do. The thing, I think, is pretty 
well in hand now if they don't have a resurgence of the winds. So we're 
all basically going to--it's quite early there, it's still 7 a.m. in the 
morning. And we're just going to spend the next 4 or 5 hours waiting for 
the weather reports.
    I've got to do the radio address, folks.

Note: The President spoke at 9:45 a.m. from the Oval Office at the White 
House. A portion of this item could not be verified because the tape was