But the Trump administration this week refused to grant an emergency declaration that would open up hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding for areas devastated in those fires, California state officials confirmed to The Washington Post early Friday.
“The state plans to appeal the decision and believes we have a strong case that California’s request meets the federal requirements for approval,” Brian Ferguson, a spokesman for the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, said in a statement to The Post.
White House spokesman Judd Deere noted, in a statement to The Post: “This summer, President Trump quickly approved wildfire relief for the State of California that was supported by damage estimates. In fact, this week the President made additional disaster assistance available to California by authorizing an increase in the level of Federal funding to 100% for debris removal and emergency protective measures undertaken as a result of the wildfires, beginning August 14, 2020, and continuing. The more recent and separate California submission was not supported by the relevant data that States must provide for approval and the President concurred with the FEMA Administrator’s recommendation.”
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) sent a request for emergency funds to Trump on Sept. 28 in a letter that outlined the extraordinary scope of the wildfires and thanked the president for visiting the state to tour the damage.
As Newsom noted, the fires ignited early in September in a state already ravaged by a historic wildfire season that in total has scorched more than 4.1 million acres and killed 31 people. As high winds whipped through areas gripped by drought and a heat wave, small fires quickly burst into new disasters.
The largest, the Creek Fire, started Sept. 4 in Madera and Fresno counties in central California. It’s still only 58 percent contained, burning through a record 340,000-plus acres as of early Friday. More than 24,000 people have had to flee its path, including hundreds of campers who had to be airlifted to safety in a daring military rescue.
The letter details five other fires that each ate up hundreds of thousands of acres and hundreds of buildings. Newsom doesn’t specify how much federal aid the state needs, because the total damage is still being assessed. But he says the cost will be immense to fix miles of damaged roads and bridges and to rebuild buildings and communities — all in a state facing a $54.3 billion deficit because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Californians are exhausted,” he wrote in the letter. “Many of the counties impacted by these wildfires are still recovering from previous devastating wildfires, storms and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
After other fires this summer, the administration granted California major disaster declarations, which allow the feds to share costs for rebuilding and cleanup, while opening the door for FEMA programs, the Los Angeles Times reported.
But in this case, Ferguson said, the administration rejected the request.
In public, Trump has often been belligerent toward California’s Democratic-dominated state government, blaming their oversight for record-setting fires. Last November, he accused Newsom of doing a “terrible job” of managing forests, tweeting, “Every year, as the fire’s rage & California burns, it is the same thing-and then he comes to the Federal Government for $$$ help. No more.”
While the state appeals the federal decision, Ferguson said California will look for other ways to pay for the rebuilding and cleanup work across the charred regions.
The state “continues to aggressively pursue other available avenues for reimbursement/support to help individuals and communities impacted by these fires rebuild and recover,” he said in a statement.