Trump approves disaster declaration for California, reversing course

Ruben Fields
October 17, 2020

The Trump administration has rejected California's request for a disaster declaration for six destructive wildfires that burned hundreds of thousands of acres across the state, including a massive central California wildfire that has become the single largest in state history.

After repeatedly downplaying the catastrophic wildfires that have ravaged California in recent months and falsely attributing the blazes to poor "forest management", the Trump administration this week denied Gov. Gavin Newsom's request for federal disaster assistance needed to recover from the destruction the fires inflicted across the state.

The federal government has denied California's request for a disaster declaration for wildfires that have burned swathes of land across the USA state since early September.

Friday morning, multiple media reports stated a spokesperson with California's Office of Emergency Services claimed the Trump administration had rejected the state's request for emergency assistance.

California did not ask for a specific dollar amount because damage estimates are not completed, Ferguson told the Los Angeles Times.

The White House said California's request for a presidential major disaster declaration was rejected because it was "not supported by the relevant data". There was a clash of views between the Trump administration and California on the state's handling of wildfires.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency told CNN in a statement Friday that damage assessments "determined that the early September fires 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".

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The governor also said that the covid-19 pandemic has posed additional challenges to normal evacuation procedures due to the need for social distancing, making this fire season particularly costly.

Federal major disaster declarations allow for cost-sharing for damage, cleanup and rebuilding between the state and federal governments.

The denial of the declaration will probably lead to a federal appeal by the state. But for a disaster of this size - the six fires in question killed at least three people, scorched 1.8 million acres, and destroyed homes and livelihoods - the move seems unconscionable.

Thousands Northern California residents remained without electricity Friday after a utility cut off service to prevent powerful winds from damaging equipment and sparking wildfires amid a fall heat wave.

Among the fires listed in the now-approved aid application is the Creek Fire, which erupted in the Sierra Nevada on September 4 and is 60% contained after burning 850 homes and more than 537 square miles (1,391 square kilometers) in Fresno and Madera counties.

"It means if a new fire breaks out, that that fire is going to be able to burn very rapidly". PG&E equipment is being examined in connection with the Zogg Fire in Northern California, and Southern California Edison equipment is under scrutiny in the Bobcat Fire near Los Angeles.

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