Blue Ridge Hot Shots crew members from Arizona join forces with California firefighters from Northern and Southern California on a backfire operation North of Mt. Wilson on Angeles Crest Highway on Tuesday Sept. 22, 2020. Firefighters continue to battle the Bobcat Fire as it continues to burn. (Robert Gauthier/ Los Angeles Times)

Blue Ridge Hot Shots crew members from Arizona join forces with California firefighters from Northern and Southern California on a backfire operation North of Mt. Wilson on Angeles Crest Highway on Tuesday Sept. 22, 2020. Firefighters continue to battle the Bobcat Fire as it continues to burn. (Robert Gauthier/ Los Angeles Times)

Trump administration blocks California wildfire relief

By Andrew J. Campa

Los Angeles Times

The Trump administration has rejected California’s request for disaster relief funds aimed at cleaning up the damage from six recent fires across the state, including Los Angeles County’s Bobcat fire, San Bernardino County’s El Dorado fire, and the Creek fire, one of the largest that continues to burn in Fresno and Madera counties.

The decision came late Wednesday or early Thursday when the administration denied a request from Gov. Gavin Newsom for a major presidential disaster declaration, said Brian Ferguson, deputy director of crisis communication and media relations for the governor’s Office of Emergency Services.

Ferguson could not provide a reason for the federal government’s denial.

President Trump has threatened to withhold federal dollars in aid before, including in 2019 unless state officials “get their act together, which is unlikely.”

A major disaster declaration allows for cost-sharing for damage, cleanup and rebuilding between the state and federal government. It also activates federal programs led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

California did not ask for a specific dollar amount because damage estimates are not complete, Ferguson said.

“The true cost won’t be known for months or years afterward,” he said.

He added: “What the state is looking for is the highest level of federal support, which requires the highest bars be cleared. But we feel our case for those requirements has been met.”

According to Ferguson, such aid could easily reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Outside the Southern California fires, the state is also asking for aid for Mendocino County’s Oak fire and Siskiyou County’s Slater fire.

Newsom formally submitted a letter to the White House and FEMA on Sept. 28 asking for such a declaration and citing the fact that five of the six largest fires in California’s recorded history have taken place this year.

The biggest is the August Complex fire, which began Aug. 16 and as of Oct. 15 had burned just over 1 million acres through seven Northern California counties and was 77% contained.

Newsom also said funds would go toward helping rebuild public infrastructure, miles of roads, parks, signs and fire shelters.

“Many of the counties impacted by these wildfires are still recovering from previous devastating wildfires, storms and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Newsom wrote.

He added, “Californians are exhausted.”

Many residents lost homes and property that was uninsured. According to Newsom, as of Sept. 28, 959 residences were destroyed by fires and 90 more were damaged, totaling an estimated $264,289,200.

The governor also noted the cash-strapped nature of the state, which is projecting a pandemic-induced $54.3-billion deficit this fiscal year.

The denial of the declaration will probably lead to a federal appeal by the state.

Ferguson is hopeful too that FEMA will reverse course and just approve the decision.

In February, the federal government agreed to pay back California more than $170 million for repair to the Oroville Dam spillway. Overall, the government kicked in $562.5 million for the project.

California previously successfully applied for a declaration from the federal government for two fires caused by lightning, including the Complex fire, in August.

Newsom will also probably ask for another disaster declaration, Ferguson said, for the Glass fire in Sonoma County and the Zogg fire in Shasta County. The Zogg fire was extinguished on Tuesday, while the Glass fire is 97% contained.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

Bay Area NewsCaliforniaDonald TrumpPoliticsWildfires

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Diners at Teeth, a bar in the Mission District, on July 9, 2021. Teeth began using digital menus based on QR code technology in August. (Ulysses Ortega/The New York Times)
The football stadium at UC Berkeley, on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020. George Kliavkoff, a former top executive at MGM Resorts International, took over the conference at the start of the month. (Jim Wilson/The New York Times)
What’s Ahead for the Pac-12? New commissioner weighs in

‘Every decision we make is up for discussion. There are no sacred cows.’

The sidewalk on Egbert Avenue in the Bayview recently was cluttered with car parts, tires and other junk. <ins>(Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)</ins>
New surveillance effort aims to crack down on illegal dumping

’We want to make sure we catch people who are trashing our streets’

As the world reeled, tech titans supplied the tools that made life and work possible. Now the companies are awash in money and questions about what it means to win amid so much loss. (Nicolas Ortega/The New York Times)
How tech won the pandemic and now may never lose

By David Streitfeld New York Times In April 2020, with 2,000 Americans… Continue reading

City celebrates completion of pedestrian, transit improvements along Haight Street

City leaders on Wednesday announced the completion of the Upper Haight Transit… Continue reading

Most Read