The Trump administration has reversed itself on its decision denying California’s request for a federal disaster declaration for the Creek Fire and other recent wildfires, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Friday.
“Just got off the phone with President Trump who has approved our Major Disaster Declaration request,” Newsom said in a news release. “Grateful for his quick response.”
The decision came on the heels of widespread disbelief and criticism over the denial, even among Republicans.
Friday morning, Assemblyman Jim Patterson (R-Fresno) criticized the Trump administration’s initial decision in a video conference call with reporters.
“Everybody is just surprised that this decision came down. This should have been a no brainer,” Patterson told reporters during a video conference call. “We did a lot of inquiry about this, and quite frankly, FEMA just blew it.”
Patterson and other officials, including Newsom, pressed the administration to reconsider. The reversal was announced just a few hours later.
Patterson said his office had been in contact with the Central Valley’s congressional delegation to overturn the denial. Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Elk Grove) foreshadowed the President’s decision on Twitter, reporting that his colleague, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Trump was “committed to reverse FEMA’s decision to deny the request for a federal disaster declaration for the recent fires.”
Congressman McCarthy @GOPLeader has just informed me that the President has committed to reverse FEMA’s decision to deny the request for a federal disaster declaration for the recent fires. The Presidential Disaster Declaration is imminent and help is on the way.
— Tom McClintock (@RepMcClintock) October 16, 2020
The declaration will now help the state support wildfire victims in Fresno, Los Angeles, Madera, Mendocino, San Bernardino, San Diego and Siskiyou counties.
“A Presidential Major Disaster Declaration helps people in the impacted counties through eligibility for support including crisis counseling, housing and unemployment assistance and legal services. It also provides federal assistance to help state, tribal and local governments fund emergency response, recovery and protective measures,” Newsom’s press release said.
Urgent Request for State Cleanup Funds
When the initial denial was issued, Patterson sent a letter to the director of Cal OES urging the state, in the interim, to begin immediate cleanup on properties damaged in the Creek Fire.
“Everybody is just surprised that this decision came down. This should have been a no brainer. We did a lot of inquiry about this, and quite frankly, FEMA just blew it.”–Assemblyman Jim Patterson (R-Fresno)
“A large number of my constituents living in the area had little or no insurance,” Patterson’s letter said. “The cost of hiring a contractor for waste removal can run upwards of $70,000. Those who are underinsured may only have part of the cleanup covered. Those without insurance would be responsible for the entire cost.”
He said failure to promptly support cleanup efforts could worsen the disaster.
“This has created a nightmare scenario where those who can neither afford the cleanup nor the cost of rebuilding their homes will have no choice but to abandon their property, leaving household hazardous waste, including chemicals, burned out cars, paint cans, appliances, etc. behind,” Patterson said.
Costs Split Between the State and County
Patterson urged the CalOES to tap the state’s ‘Recovery California Disaster Assistance Account‘ for funding.
“The debris removal is a seventy five twenty five split between the state and the county, with 75 percent being picked up by the state of California,” said Patterson.
The CDAA authorizes the Director of the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services to administer a disaster assistance program that provides financial assistance from the state for costs incurred by local governments as a result of a disaster event.
According to the state’s website describing the account, “funding for the repair, restoration, or replacement of public real property damaged or destroyed by a disaster is made available when the Director concurs with a local emergency proclamation requesting state disaster assistance.”
This story has been updated.