Energy & Environment

Trump administration rejects California request for wildfire disaster assistance

California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D) office said the Trump administration rejected the state’s request for a disaster declaration following six wildfires that tore through the state earlier this year, including the largest single blaze in the state’s history.

“The request for a Major Presidential Disaster Declaration for early September fires has been denied by the federal administration,” Brian Ferguson, a spokesperson for the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, told CNN.

White House spokesman Judd Deere told The Hill that California’s submission was “was not supported by the relevant data” states must provide to be considered for a disaster declaration, adding that the president’s decision concurred with that of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) administrator. 

Lizzie Litzow, a spokesperson for FEMA, told The Hill that damage assessments of the early September wildfires “were not of such severity and magnitude to exceed the combined capabilities of the state, affected local governments, voluntary agencies and other responding federal agencies.” 

However, Litzow said FEMA approved four fire management assistance grants to five counties affected by the wildfires included in Newson’s disaster request. 

The grants will allow reimbursement for 75 percent of firefighting, evacuation and sheltering costs.

State officials are planning to appeal the decision, which they have 30 days to do. 

Newsom penned a letter to President Trump on Sept. 28 requesting the disaster declaration following a string of wildfires. 

The governor noted that the state’s economy had been “significantly damaged” by the COVID-19 pandemic, the major wildfires and poor air quality. He wrote that infrastructure damage estimates exceeded $229 million.

“Federal assistance is critical to support physical and economic recovery of California and its communities,” Newsom wrote. “The longer it takes for California and its communities to recover, the more severe, devastating and irreversible the economic impacts will be.”

The governor wrote that the pandemic-related restrictions and social distancing had interfered with typical evacuation procedures, requiring the state to use hotel rooms instead of congregate shelters.

“Californians are exhausted,” Newsom wrote.

The Creek Fire, the largest wildfire in the state’s history, has scorched 341,722 acres across Fresno, and the Bobcat Fire burned another 115,796 acres.

The El Dorado Fire, which was started by a pyrotechnic device used to generate colored smoke for a gender reveal party, has burned more than 22,000 acres in the San Bernardino National Forest.

The three other wildfires in the request were the Valley Fire in San Diego County, the Oak Fire in Mendocino County and the Slater Fire in Siskiyou County.

More than 4 million acres of California has burned in wildfires this year, a record more than double the state’s previous record for the most area burned in a single season, a Cal Fire spokesman said earlier this month. 

As of Thursday, there were 21 active wildfires across the state. The statewide fatalities is 31 since the beginning of the year, and more than 9,200 structures have been destroyed.

The denied request highlights Trump’s contentious relationship with Newsom and other Democratic leaders in the state. 

Trump approved a major disaster declaration for California in August, but the president has also claimed the fires are due to years of poor forest management in the state. 

Last month, the president dismissed evidence pointed to by Newsom of climate change’s role in the state’s continuing wildfires. 

“Honestly, he’s been very nice with the words which is good,” Trump said of Newsom. “But I said you’ve got to manage this. It’s a management thing. He said, ‘No, it’s global warming.’ I said, ‘When the leaves build up and you have a floor of leaves and the trees fall down and you don’t remove them because the environmentalists don’t want you to touch the tree, within 18 months that tree becomes like a matchstick.’ “

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (D) slammed Trump in September for his response to the wildfires, saying Trump needs to focus on helping Americans in need, regardless of party, instead of basing decisions “on an electoral map.”

“We need leadership that is equal across this country,” Garcetti said. 

“We need actual help, not based on our party affiliation or how we voted,” he added. 

Updated at 11:26 a.m.

Tags Bobcat Fire California California wildfire Donald Trump El Dorado Fire Emergency management Eric Garcetti Gavin Newsom Judd Deere Los Angeles Wildfire

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