Gov. Jay Inslee today asked the federal government to reconsider providing federal assistance to families impacted by the state’s largest wildfire, saying more homes were destroyed or damaged than initially thought. The governor, in a letter to the President Obama, said immediate temporary housing assistance from the federal government is necessary to achieve a full economic recovery, and to ensure disaster survivors have a stable home to reside in prior to the arrival of winter.
“Okanogan County faced a significant housing shortage even before the fires,” Inslee said. “That shortage has been exacerbated by the devastating firestorm – and has become a considerable crisis that the state needs help to address. We have hundreds of families and individuals whose homes were destroyed or damaged who want to stay in their communities, and who want to maintain their job or business – but are feeling forced out of the area because they cannot find affordable housing nearby. Immediate temporary housing assistance is necessary to ensure both an emotional and economic recovery – assistance that state programs are unable to support.”
Inslee requested a Major Presidential Disaster Declaration on August 6, based on a Preliminary Damage Assessment that was completed during a still-active fire situation. Dangers presented by ongoing wildfire activity inhibited the state’s ability to get a complete picture of the significant damage and hardship caused by the fires on individuals and households.
On August 11, the President approved the public assistance program to help pay for repairs to damaged public infrastructure and costs related to emergency response in Okanogan county and the Colville tribes. However, FEMA denied the governor’s request for the Individuals and Households programs – a decision which the state immediately decided to appeal. Since the initial request was filed, much of the fire activity has been suppressed, allowing the state – together with federal, county and community partners – to canvas additional areas and gather and review more data to support the request for federal individual assistance.
In his letter, the governor said 353 residential properties were impacted by the fires, up from 244 included in the initial request. The governor also pointed out that more than 40 percent of the properties were uninsured. Of those homes that carried insurance, more than 30 percent are under-insured and experienced significant uninsured losses.
“Given the low rate of insurance, it’s highly unlikely that many of the impacted homeowners will be able to rebuild again,” Inslee added. “Many of these households supported a thriving tourism industry, which is a key economic driver for this region.”
Additionally, the governor provided further documentation of the concentration of damage, adding that in the town of Pateros, more than half of all households had their home destroyed or significantly impacted by the firestorm. “The loss of homes has had a dramatic impact on nearly all local, community-based businesses as the occupants of many of these dwellings represent business owners, employees and suppliers,” Inslee said.
The state’s appeal for individual disaster assistance is now pending review and decision by FEMA. The governor spoke today with FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate to press the state’s case. Washington U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, and U.S. Reps. Doc Hastings (R-Pasco) and Dave Reichert (R-Auburn) have also urged FEMA to approve the state’s appeal.
The Washington Military Department’s Emergency Management Division also recently requested public assistance programs for infrastructure and emergency response costs in Kittitas county.