Rim Fire: Federal Disaster Relief Funds Available

Part of the immense swath of Sierra Nevada forest burned in the Rim Fire that broke out near Yosemite National Park in mid-August. (Mike McMillan/U.S. Forest Service)
Part of the immense swath of Sierra Nevada forest burned in the Rim Fire that broke out near Yosemite National Park in mid-August. (Mike McMillan/U.S. Forest Service)

It always helps to go straight to the top: Gov. Jerry Brown’s letter to President Obama resulted in today’s announcement that the federal government will provide financial help to California for the Rim Fire recovery.

Last month, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had denied a request by Brown for assistance, saying that the severity of the damage caused by the fire did not exceed the capabilities of the state and local governments.

But Brown appealed the decision in a letter to President Obama; the major disaster declaration triggers the release of federal funds to help communities rebuild and repair.

The Rim Fire  began on August 17 and was not completely contained until October 24.  It was the third largest wildfire in California’s history, burning 400 square miles from Groveland in the Stanislaus National Forest into the western stretches of Yosemite National Park, and threatening the Hetch Hetchy reservoir. According to the governor’s office, the fire caused more than $54 million in damage.

FEMA provided disaster relief to help with recovery in Mariposa and Tuolomne counties over the summer. On Oct. 8, Brown asked for a major disaster declaration after declaring states of emergency in those counties plus San Francisco county. His request was denied on Nov. 4.

On Dec. 3, Brown appealed the decision with new damage estimates and details not available at the time of the original request (such as the duration of the fire, which was not contained until well after his Oct. 8 request). His letter said, in part:

The Rim Fire ultimately burned 402 square miles over a period of 69 days, encompassing more than 257,314 acres; causing significant impacts to the State and to the affected local jurisdictions of such severity and magnitude that recovery efforts remain beyond our capabilities. This critical need for federal help prompted my requests for assistance through various programs, including a request for a major disaster declaration.

In the aftermath of the fire, the State and its communities face infrastructure damage, significant negative economic impact, as well as complex and multifaceted environmental damages. The burned area created an enormous potential for catastrophic flooding and debris runoff from winter storms.

The disaster money is available to state and local governments and eligible private nonprofits for emergency work, including reparation or replacement of facilities damaged by the fire.

The declaration also allows for additional designations to be made at a later date if requested by the state and deemed appropriate based on additional damage estimates.

 

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