FEMA to help some wildfire-ravaged counties in Washington

The federal government will help restore or repair public property destroyed by wildfires in eight counties.
Don Jenkins

Capital Press

Published on October 22, 2015 9:37AM

Washington’s request for federal aid to repair public property damaged during the state’s record-breaking wildfire season has been partly approved, Gov. Jay Inslee’s office announced.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency OK’d assistance in eight counties and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.

FEMA did not approve Inslee’s request to extend the aid to four other counties and three tribes.

The governor thanked FEMA for the partial approval. “This financial assistance will help our state as we recover from these devastating events,” Inslee said in a written statement.

The state awaits FEMA’s response to Inslee’s request for assistance to cover uninsured losses suffered by families and businesses in Okanogan and Chelan counties, and the Colville reservation in northeast Washington.

More than 1 million acres burned after June 1 in Washington, causing $42.49 million worth of damage to public property, according to a preliminary assessment by state and federal officials.

Nearly half of the damage, $20.6 million, occurred in Okanogan County, where the Okanogan Complex fires burned 522,920 acres. The county was hit in 2014 by the 256,108-acre Carlton Complex fires.

The state estimates 3,850 cattle worth $7.7 million were lost by this year’s fire in Okanogan County. More livestock are at risk of starvation because of lost grazing land, according to Inslee’s letter this month to President Barack Obama requesting assistance.

“Agriculture is the affected area’s most important economic driver. It is too soon to fully assess the agricultural losses caused by these fires, but they are likely to be lasting for many years,” Inslee wrote.

Assistance to repair bridges, roads, parks and other public property will be available in Chelan, Ferry, Lincoln, Okanogan, Pend Oreille, Stevens, Whatcom and Yakima counties, and the Colville reservation.

Nonprofit organizations that provide public services, such as hospitals, schools and homeless shelters, also will be eligible to apply for money.

FEMA will fund up to 75 percent of the cost of repairs.

Assistance was not approved for Asotin, Columbia, Douglas, Garfield, the Kalispel Tribe of Indians, the Spokane Tribe of Indians, and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation.

Officials in the governor’s office and State Military Department said FEMA did not provide reasons for withholding assistance in those areas.

FEMA spokeswoman Cam Rossie said the agency looks at several factors, including the extent of uninsured losses. She said she did have information about why some counties and tribes fell short of qualifying.

According to damage assessments complied by state and federal officials, the four counties not included in the declaration suffered less damage to public property than the other counties included in the governor’s request.

The fires statewide destroyed 146 homes, including 92 that were uninsured. Another 467 homes were damaged.

FEMA already has indicated it will reimburse the state and local departments for some fire-suppression costs.


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