Capitol Alert: Brown appeals feds' rejection of California's request for Rim Fire aid

jmiller@sacbee.comDecember 3, 2013 

Inmate firefighters walked along Highway 120 during the Rim Fire in August.

JAE C. HONG — Associated Press

Gov. Jerry Brown has asked President Barack Obama to overturn his administration's rejection of the state's request of a federal disaster declaration for last summer's Rim Fire.

In a letter to Brown early last month, Federal Emergency Management Agency's administrator W. Craig Fugate wrote that the severity and magnitude of the Rim Fire, which burned more than 257,000 acres and all but shut down the Yosemite National Park tourist industry, did not justify the major disaster declaration, which would free up additional federal aid to cover state and local costs.

Brown disagreed. In his appeal letter Tuesday, Brown said the fire cost the state at least $70 million. Local governments also incurred major costs and the environmental damage totals an estimated $115 million, among other impacts, he wrote.

"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," Brown wrote. "The burned area created an enormous potential for catastrophic flooding and debris runoff from winter storms."

The Rim Fire started Aug. 17 and was not fully contained until late October. It scorched part of Yosemite but destroyed relatively few structures, which officials credited to favorable winds.

In late August, the state received a fire management assistance declaration that gave the state some federal money. Those grants, though, covered only 29 percent of the fire's duration, Brown wrote.

So far in 2013, FEMA has made 60 major disaster declarations, none of them in California. FEMA granted major disaster declarations in 2003, 2007 and 2008 after devastating wildfires in Southern California.

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